George Jones Cold Hard Truth

Along with Johnny Cash, George Jones is the greatest (barely) living inspiration for the insurgent generation. Hard-living, up from hardscrabble roots, unrepentant - Jones seems to be one of the last of his line of country rebels that was embraced by the country establishment who didn't find his outlaw ways neutered in the process. Or so the story goes. The George Jones Collection, a collection of singles recorded throughout the '90s, has the sickly sheen of Nashville dross and Grand Ole Opry clichés, and frankly, it's way beneath him and his legacy. Cold Hard Truth, though, is a much different story and the entire tone of the album takes on portentous, nearly eerie overtones when you consider that the car accident that nearly killed him - again, a result of his hard living - happened just days after he finished recording it. As the title suggests, the songs are reflective and unsparing. It's a time of reassessment, stocktaking and even remorse, of being thankful and a little surprised to still be around. Jones does sound tired and haggard (not as in Merle), but at least what you're hearing is George Jones and his voice wondering if he's worth the redemption he instinctually seeks. Whether he is or not is a matter for him and his maker and loved ones to sort out, but Cold Hard Truth does redeem the years represented on the collection. (Warner)