As the title states, Burn Your Playhouse Down: The Unreleased Duets is a compilation of duets that have not been released until now. The tracks span from 1977 to 2007, the oldest collaboration being with Tammy Wynette and the newest with their daughter, Georgette. The other ten songs are seven unreleased tracks from the excellent 1994 The Bradley Barn Sessions and three songs from the Friends in High Places project from 1991.
The album begins with Jones’ duet with his daughter, Georgette. “You And Me And Time” is a touching account of how physical and emotional distance threatened to destroy their father/daughter relationship. Together they sing, “I lost you to the spotlight, but kept you in my prayers/No matter where they took me, Hon, you were always there/so hard when your hero is a stranger in your home/Our love’s like a mountain, one can’t move it alone.”
Luckily, it has the happy ending that eluded Reba McEntire’s tragic “The Greatest Man I Never knew.” While Georgette’s voice is not as engaging as either of her parents, it is clear that she has inherited a fair amount of their talent, nonetheless. “Lovin’ You, Lovin’ Me”, the final song on the album, was recorded in 1977 with Georgette’s mother, Tammy Wynette. It’s not one of their more memorable collaborations, but it is still a worthy addition to the Jones/Wynette duet collection.
The tracks that were recorded for The Bradley Barns Sessions are the most well produced on the album. Like the original project, the songs are traditional and organic. Out of the seven Brian Ahern-produced songs, the duets with Vince Gill, Keith Richards, Mark Chesnutt and Marty Stuart are the strongest. The Stuart and Chesnutt songs have straight up country productions, as one would expect from such faithful traditionalists. The title track, with Keith Richards, is the most energetic song on the album. It, too, is surprisingly traditional. Moreover, It sounds as though Jones and Richards are truly enjoying themselves.
One of the album’s most poignant songs is Jones’ duet with Vince Gill. “The Selfishness In Man” has been done before, but Gill sounds as though he is meant to sing these words: “Why can’t we see the folly and the uselessness of hate?/Love could lead to understanding/Maybe it’s not too late/Then perhaps through His great wisdom we might learn to understand/Then there’d be no shame or sorrow/And no selfishness in man.”
Among the weakest songs are two of the three songs that were originally left off of the Billy Sherrill produced Friends In High Places album. While most of us will recognize Dolly Parton’s “Rockin’ Years”, which she would later turn into a hit with Ricky Van Shelton, the version with Jones lacks the charm that saved the version with Van Shelton. The production is marred by heavy reverb, synthesizers and distracting background singers that ultimately ruin the song. While Shelby Lynn sounds as beautiful as ever, the dated production on “I Always Get It Right With You”, once again, overshadows the song as a whole. The duet with Jim Lauderdale, however, is rather fun with excelent harmony vocals from Lauderdale and an outlaw riff that helps the song to stand out as one of the better offerings on the album.
Considering the obvious fact that this is a collection full of songs that did not make it onto their intended albums, this is a good collection that contains quite a few collaborations that deserve to be released. While the album is admittedly flawed and disjointed at times, it is still a worthwhile addition to one’s George Jones library.