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George Jones and Tammy Wynette

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George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Tammy Wynette died 15 years ago. It took George Jones, her duet partner and ex-husband, until today to follow her.

Jones had a long and amazing solo career from his early crazed gulping rockabilly sides to the tottering glop masterpieces with producer Billy Sherrill. Great as he was on his own, though, for me it’s his collaborations with Tammy Wynette and Sherrill that are his greatest recordings. Jones’s textured tone and the ragged-but-right phrasing-the way he sounded like he’d just been hit on the head with a bucket every time he opened his mouth-somehow never sounded so ragged or so right as when it was paired with Wynette’s smoother, more decorous performance. The part-schtick, part-sincere corniness that was in different ways so integral to both of their performance styles was multiplied to extravagant levels when they sang together under Sherrill’s auspices.

There aren’t really songs like that anymore: The whole he-said/she-said genre, once a staple of both country and R&B, seems to have fallen by the wayside.
This could lead some bad places, as in the unlistenable, cover-your-eyes, wedding-vow recitation on “The Ceremony”-a wreck only compounded now that we know just how dreadful their marriage actually was. But it could result in sublimely klutzy vaudeville, as on “Did You Ever?” where the interrupted question-answer patter suggests a perfect merging of minds into single, bickering, doofy oneness. Or, occasionally, as on “Something to Brag About,” it could turn into a kind of counterintuitive cool. Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks that Tammy Wynette is just outrageously sexy when she throatily boasts about her “swinging mini-dress/that I made by myself/out of momma’s curtains and old bed sheets.”

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