Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Definitive Collection
Mercury Nashville

Country legend nicknamed "No Show" for erratic behavior, repackaged to confound careful consumers

As music, this collection of 22 remastered early recordings is magnificent even if you believe, like most non-purists, that George Jones, the greatest country singer ever, was just getting started in his straight honky-tonk period. It's terse, unsentimental and soul-deep; Jones's voice is a marvel and mystery long before its fathomless maturity. As product, however, this one's a 20-ounce Coke, a redundancy designed to simulate novelty and take up shelf space. True enough, Jones sounds maybe a quarter-quantum clearer and younger in these mixes. But 1994's two-CD Cup of Loneliness: The Classic Mercury Years covers the same ground (1955 to 1962), and its 29 additional cuts are as worthy as all but a few highlights here. Better notes, too. With artists of Jones's caliber, sometimes more is more.

Blender, Sept. 2004