Twenty-five years ago, country music legends George Jones and Merle Haggard recorded their first album together, A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine. A lot has changed since 1982; Merle and George are still be revered among country’s current contenders, but they’re certainly not selling the same amounts as the young’ens.
Kickin’ Out The Floodlights…Again is better than their previous collaboration, due in large part to the lack of pressure of trying to make a commercially viable record. With this burden gone, the two set out to make, and ultimately achieve, a true country music album that’s heavy on camaraderie and highlighting their talents while avoiding any hint of trying to rekindle the careers of two legends that’ve already burned brighter than most current country music stars could even imagine.
Make no mistake: their voices are completely in tact. If anything, Floodlights is a testament to how two elder statesmen of country music can overshadow minor production shortcomings with the use of their impeccable voices.
The arrangements make no foolhardy attempts to update their sounds as it’s criminally obvious that neither one of them have any possibility to find a place on today’s hit country. But there is just enough gloss to wonder why they weren’t placed in a studio that can properly emulate the nostalgia they’re content with pursuing. If anything, it may have provided both of their careers with a great twilight bounce and the same hipster recognition that Cash, Loretta, and even Haggard’s last album on Anti received.
For this release, they change it up by having each legend have a go at the other’s songs. Merle, who was notorious for his ability to imitate other country music stars with unnerving results, almost manages to mirror the Possum on some tracks. On others like “She Thinks I Still Care,” he recreates Jones’ baritone while adding his own touches to the phrasing.
Merle contributes a stellar new song (“Born With The Blues”) that is one of the album’s four duet offerings. It’s one track that you’d wish George had taken for his own. The subject matter is straight out of his own autobiography, I Lived To Tell It All, and he completely nails lines like “in spite of the cocaine / in spite of it all / God gave me a woman / to cushion the fall,” perhaps because it’s so close to the truth.
Merle’s “Floodlight” is the perfect song to open the album, and Jones takes the original line about being “forty-one years old” and turns it into the more appropriate “I’m a whole lot older now.” When Hag takes the line about “after twenty years of pickin’ / We’re still alive and kickin’ down the wall!” he sounds like he means it.
Like Yesterday’s Wine, the two end the album with a lot of lighthearted banter. In between the verses of Duke Ellington‘s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” Merle chides George into visiting him more often, even if it means making the trip by lawnmower. The two kid each other for a while before Haggard makes the obvious statement, “You know, we need to get back on the radio, George!” He’s right, of course, proving that not only are their voices in tact, their minds are as sharp as ever too.
Jones on Letterman last night doing “He Stopped Loving Her Today”: