The short version: With ‘Skin,’ Georgette Jones releases the album she’s always wanted to make, and though it may have some weaker moments, the high points are among the best of the year.
- Favorite tracks: “Cigarettes and You (w/ Dale Watson),” “Skin,” “End It With Hello,” “Goodbye Going Down,” “I Know What You Did Last Night (w/ Vince Gill)”
- Least favorite track: “Jump In”
- Rating: 7/10
The long version: As the old cliché goes, being the child of a famous musician, especially in country music, comes with its benefits and burdens.
From a music fan’s perspective, it seems like a blessing; those children can walk along the metaphorical road already paved for them, and there’s (seemingly) no need to work for name recognition.
But that’s rarely the case: Hank Williams Jr. first acted as a mere puppet singing his father’s songs; Rosanne Cash struggled with immense pressures trying to figure out if she could live up to her father’s legacy, and even then, she rose to stardom at a time when his hits were drying up, only adding to the guilt and pressure; Justin Townes Earle … well, there’s a case where a parent’s reputation can work against someone trying to forge their own path.
In other words, it’s not surprising when certain children of those stars look to do something completely different, rather than live up to impossible, unfair expectations that shouldn’t be there to begin with. Not to make this a contest, but considering Georgette Jones has two famous parents in country music, the pressures are that much more apparent. But if her newest album, Skin, is truly the album she’s always wanted to make, it’s a solidly unique effort that sadly isn’t receiving enough attention.
Yet before diving into a discussion of the album itself, Skin really does lay everything on the line with its opening title track – a pointed plea from Jones for people to like her for her own music, not for her connections. And it’s a biting track, where Jones calls out those hypocrites who expect her to sound like either of her parents or not engage in “reckless” behavior like, say, sporting tattoos. If anything, it’s a good reminder of how we idolize figures in hindsight, when in reality, and out of no disrespect meant for either of her parents, both have their checkered pasts, too, and it’s best to look at someone without carrying any hasty, unfair prejudices.
On that note, though, considering who Jones is, it’s no surprise that her vocal tone is magnificent, with a knack for subtlety on the ballads and a real hell-raising energy on the uptempo tracks. Truthfully, the ballads capture her best as a unique personality, with the title track, “End It With Hello,” and “Cigarettes and You” being sold with a devastatingly convincing ache and regret. I also don’t think Vince Gill or Dale Watson have sounded this good in awhile, with Gill pulling a surprise switch by being a convincingly seedy character on “I Know What You Did Last Night” (certainly not a time when a certain someone would call him “Sweet Pea”), while Watson plays opposite to Jones on “Cigarettes and You,” showing a fairly grim picture of addiction from both sides.
Skin, of all albums, isn’t likely the one anyone would expect to carry on the 2019 tradition of artists resorting to distinctly ‘90s country tones, but a lot of the melodies, chord progressions and sonic palette itself point that way. On one hand, the instrumental textures are incredibly rich and come through well, especially the warm acoustics balanced against the piano and pedal steel on the title track, and the fiddle and dobro interplay on “Cigarettes and You” to help an already bleak picture settle in. And considering “I Know What You Did Last Night” is opting for a barn-burning honky tonk stomp, Jones and Gill sound excellent matched against the wilder saloon piano. On the other hand, though, the uptempo tracks sometimes sound a bit too slick, with the guitars often not quite coming through with the necessary crunch to sell some of the angrier moments. The big exception to this is “Goodbye Going Down,” which switches things up entirely for a blazing country-rock number and an organ solo to boot. But then there’s a track like “Make A Little Love,” which plays things too intimately to the point of indulging in overbearing schmaltz, or more generically arranged tracks like “Jump In” and “Pretty Good Mistake.” “The Trouble Is You” tries to swing with a swaggering blues groove, but feels too underweight to connect well.
But considering the title track is really the entire thesis statement of this album, Skin really centers itself around its songwriting, which often finds Jones in situations where she’s looking to burn the past without looking back, erasing anyone who used her or held her back. To be honest, though, I wish the album explored this in more interesting ways, as while most of these tracks aren’t bad, they do sometimes scan as generic or broadly written. Take “Jump In,” for example, which, sure, plays well to the overarching theme by throwing caution to the wind, but the whole “we’re going to live and be young forever” narrative is a tired one. And when most of these tracks are opting for similar themes, it can start to make the album feel like it’s running together fairly quickly at times. “I Call It Gone” isn’t bad, but I prefer the more fiery angst of “Goodbye Going Down,” and “Pretty Good Mistake” and “The Trouble Is You” are both fairly lacking bar hookups tracks that, again, fit the theme of trying to escape troubled situations, but do so in uninteresting, tired ways.
Again, the highlights on Skin really speak for themselves and may overshadow some of the weaker moments; the title track is one example, but “End It With Hello” also explores an endless cycle of regret with the self-awareness of the situation, yet also the inability to know how to escape it, and that’s a pain Jones emotes incredibly well. And if Skin starts strong, it also ends strong, as “Cigarettes and You” really is a sorrowful look at the breaking points of addiction and, again, lacking the ability to know just how to move on, and it’s when Skin explores those darker details that it finds its best moments.
Overall, Skin may be a bit too lacking to call it a great album, but the highlights are among the best songs of the year, and it’s an album that finds Jones coming into her own, artistically. Hopefully this personal salvation leads to more in the future, because Jones is a talented country artist in her own right.