A heartfelt tribute to the departed George Jones that celebrates his incredible legacy of music, “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” is pure catnip for country music lovers. More than just a list of nicknames for the Possum and shout-outs for some of his best songs, the reverence is coupled with relevance for his signature sound.
Randy Travis and Joe Nichols represent two successive generations that were shaped by Jones’ influence, and they weren’t even among the first generation of artists to be shaped by his work. “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” makes the case for Jones’ immortality, with his voice living on in heaven while it still plays down here in every lonely jukebox joint.
All that would’ve been enough to pull on the heartstrings. But then, Travis nearly joined Jones in immortality this summer, a stunning and frightening turn of events that makes this record all the more painful to listen to. Much like Jones on his final recordings, time and hard living have weathered Randy’s voice to the point that it’s nearly unrecognizable. It wasn’t until Joe Nichols piped in that I was sure it was Randy Travis that started off the song.
We lionize our legends and our icons. Their accomplishments on records seem almost superhuman, a byproduct of artists in their prime being captured for timeless posterity. Sometimes, a tragedy happens that freezes a Patsy Cline or a Hank Williams in that moment forever. More often, we have to watch these wondrous talents slowly drift toward their own mortality, as more notes fade out of reach and even the greatest stylists start to lose their distinctive style.
It’s painful. I want more Randy Travis records, just like I want more of the George Jones records that will never come. Time can keep running for a long time, but it always runs out in the end.
“Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” is such an amazing tribute to Jones. I wish that listening to it didn’t make me feel so sad.