Some might question why write an All About Jazz review of an album featuring songs made popular by George Jones? Duke Ellington had the answer when he said, "There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind ... the only yardstick by which the result should be judged is simply that of how it sounds. If it sounds good it's successful; if it doesn't it has failed." Staci Griesbach and her colleagues have made good music according to the Duke's criterion.
Growing up on a working farm in Wisconsin, Griesbach heard plenty of country musicGeorge Jones, Patsy Cline, Shania Twain, etc. Now living in Santa Monica, she's made jazz vocal recordings featuring the three singers just listed. In 2016 she studied with Celia Vaz in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The range of feelings and genres in her latest recording, My George Jones Songbook, is a testament to her taste and talent in choosing music and musicians for her art.
At first blush the notion of George Jones music as the centerpiece for a jazz recording might provoke discomfort. He is considered the best male country vocalist of his time by many. A self-avowed alcoholic who told mostly melodramatic musical stories, George was damn good at bending the notes and his elbow.
Most importantly, though,, is that this recording is by a vocalist who has taken risks and succeeded. Griesbach's vocal range is exceptional. The first six cuts begin with three of George Jones' melancholy melodramas. She then switches to an upbeat mainstream scat, followed by a Bossa Nova with English and Portuguese lyrics segueing to a Cole Porter preface for Norro Wilson's and George Richey's tune. By the end of the six openers the listener knows the girl can sing.
Number 8 in her songbook is James Taylor's "Bartender Blues, a country song penned before country was cool. Taylor once said George Jones could bend notes like a pedal steel guitarist. On Griesbach's "Grand Tour" she bends her voice with the Rich Hinman pedal steel guitar enough to make a grown man or woman cry.
By now you get the idea. My George Jones Songbook is more than a compendium of George Jones' hits. The last six cuts are as varied as the others. "White Lightning" was written by J.P. Richardson, known to most rock'n'rollers as The Big Bopper back in the day. Fiddle player Stuart Duncan is showcased on "Why Baby Why," the closest to pure country music on the recording, understandable since the harmonic obstacles to changing it are, if not insurmountable, unrealistic.
Griesbach's "Take Me" is as close to third stream music as a George Jones song will ever get. She ends the piece with what might be considered a tip of the hat to Judi Silvano and Joe Lovanoechoes of smooth jazz in her dialogue with Bob Sheppard on tenor.
Griesbach becomes a Francophile by using Johnny Halladay's French lyric for a light and breezy "Tender Years." She finishes that tune via a scat sing-along with pianist Jeremy Siskind.
Mention should be made of the nature of the arrangements. Jeremy Siskind, Tamir Hendelman, Otmaro Ruiz, Willie Murillo, Rahsaan Barber, and Addison Frei show considerable talent in the broad range of styles applied here. An example of their creativity is the use of Artyom Manukyan on cello for "He Stopped Loving Her Today." As an alternative to the pedal steel guitar, the cello adds an artistic element to what country music haters might consider an overwrought tear-jerker.
"He Stopped Loving Her Today" songwriter Bobby Braddock complimented Griesbach on this recording by saying she may have created a new musical genre he called "countryjazz...jazzneck...whatever." No insult intended to Mister Braddock, but as usual, the Duke said it best, speaking about the different kinds of music. "My George Jones Songbook" is good music.
The Grand Tour (Norro Wilson, Carmol Taylor, and George Richey); He Stopped Loving Her Today (Bobby
Braddock and Curly Putnam); A Good Year For The Roses (Jerry Chesnut); He Thinks I Still Care (Dicky Lee
and Steve Duffy); Walk Through This World With Me (Sandy Seamons and Kaye Savage);. A Picture of Me
Without You (Cole Porter, Norro Wilson and George Richey); Golden Ring (Bobby Braddock, Rafe Vanhoy);
Bartender’s Blues (James Taylor); Why Baby Why (Darrel Edwards, George Jones); Take Me (George Jones,
Leon Payne); White Lightning (Jiles Perry Richardson); You’re Still On My Mind (Luke McDaniel); Tender Years
(Tes Tendres Années) (George Jones, Darrell Edwards); The Race Is On (Don Rollins).
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