Considering that the duets that he has released are among the finest in the country genre, a collection of previously unreleased duets by George Jones—rightfully regarded in many circles as the finest male vocalist in the genre’s history—initially seems like a goldmine. The reality of Burn Your Playhouse Down, however, is far less inspiring. With the exception of a lackluster 1977 duet with then-wife Tammy Wynette and a 2007 recording with their daughter, Georgette, the tracks for this collection are drawn from two of Jones’s most recent A-list duet projects, 1991’s Friends in High Places and 1994’s divisive The Bradley Barn Sessions. With so many high-profile collaborators and session musicians contributing, those two recording sessions were characterized by production that does the absolute last thing that any George Jones record should do: Take the focus away from Jones. As a result, Playhouse is hamstrung by the same over-production that drew harsh criticism nearly 15 years ago and doesn’t sound any better today. The title cut, which finds Jones sounding even boozier than duet partner Keith Richards, is the only track that truly comes close to Jones’s vintage rowdy honky-tonk style. “Tavern Choir,” with the underrated Jim Lauderdale, and “When the Grass Grows Over Me,” with Jones disciple Mark Chesnutt, are the other standouts here, but they’re hardly essential additions to Jones’s deep catalogue of duets. It isn’t the choices of duet partners that fails (Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and Shelby Lynne all sound as great as they always do, and even Georgette Jones has a solid presence as a vocalist), it’s that the material simply doesn’t play to Jones’s many strengths. As a result, Playhouse is a major disappointment for anyone other than George Jones completists.
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