The idea sounds good, and it may even make sense: collect one song from each of the 50 years that George Jones has been recording, and present them in one exhaustive triple-disc set, appropriately titled 50 Years of Hits
. Seems simple enough, but in practice, the set doesn't quite work, either as an overview of Jones' career or as an enjoyable listening experience. Although Bandit has done an impressive job with cross-licensing between labels, the compilers acknowledge that they weren't able to work out a deal with Musicor to feature Jones' late-'60s hits, so they were forced to substitute re-recordings of "Walk Through This World With Me," "She's Mine," "I'll Share My World With You," and "A Good Year for the Roses" for the originals here. While it's regrettable that the originals aren't here, their absence is understandable and the remakes are professional and rather strong. The bigger problem with the collection is its very construction: Jones has a rich, long legacy, but it's not best represented by sampling every year equally. Like most veteran artists, George Jones' commercial and creative peak came early and, like most country artists, that peak extended over several years where he hit the Top Ten on a regular basis. For the Possum, this was a long time indeed -- nearly 25 years, which is an extraordinary run by any measure, but it's only half of 50, which means that half of this 50-track collection represents music he recorded after his peak. There is still good stuff here, particularly in the '80s when he was slowly descending from his peak and settling into veteranship, but these highlights are few -- duets with Merle Haggard
("Yesterdays Wine," 1981) and Garth Brooks
("Beer Run," 2001), "Same Ole Me" from 1982, and "I'm a One Woman Man" from 1989. Outside of that, pretty much everything after "He Stopped Loving Her Today," which arrives at the midpoint of the collection, isn't essential, and when that counts for half a collection, that's a pretty big handicap to surmount. That's what keeps 50 Years of Hits
from being either a good summation of Jones' career, an encapsulation of his greatness, or even a fun listen, particularly when compared to 1994's Essential George Jones: The Spirit of Country
, which may stop at the end of the '80s but covers George's important music much better.