Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Talk to George Jones these days and the country music icon readily admits he's a changed man. Following a near-fatal car accident in 1999, he gave up alcohol and cigarettes and rediscovered his faith in God.

That spiritual renewal fuels Jones' new Bandit/BNA Records release, "The Gospel Collection: George Jones Sings the Greatest Stories Ever Told." Released April 1, the two-CD set includes 24 tracks, among them such classics as "Amazing Grace," "I'll Fly Away," "Peace in the Valley," and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." The set also includes duets with Patti Page ("Precious Memories") and Vestal Goodman ("Mansion Over the Hilltop").

"My whole life has been turned around," Jones says. "I quit drinking and smoking, and I have a different outlook on life. That wreck put the fear of God in me. I just got a little closer to the good Lord, and I'm enjoying life. I felt like this was the right time to do the kind of songs I've really always wanted to do if I thought I could have made a living at it."

The project reunites Jones with legendary producer Billy Sherrill, the man responsible for Jones' country hits during his tenure with Epic Records. "Billy and my wife are real close buddies," Jones says of his wife/manager, Nancy. "She asked him would he consider coming out of retirement to do this double-album of gospel songs. He said no, he wouldn't do them for George, but he'd do it for her. He's a real jewel. He's still got the touch."

Jones says Nancy and Sherrill helped him determine which songs to record for the project, which he considers his first true gospel album. "There's [another] gospel album out on me, but I recorded that album over a period of years," the 71-year-old artist explains. "We'd go in to do a regular album, and we'd thrown in a gospel song. Over the years, they accumulated enough for an album, but I never went in to actually record a gospel album until now."

Jones says a tube that was placed down his throat during his hospital stay had initially caused some vocal trouble, but he is now recovered. "The Gospel Collection" features the distinctive baritone that has made him a country legend and finds that voice paired with Page, with whom he previously recorded a duet for his "Ladies Choice" album, and Goodman, with whom he previously recorded the song/video "Angel Band."

Jones credits Goodman with lifting his spirits following his car accident. He asked to speak to her when he regained consciousness. "I had only met Vestal one time in my life, a few months before the wreck. I had no reason to have her in mind. I guess it was all the prayers she was putting out for me. My wife said the first person I spoke of was Vestal Goodman. I wanted to see Vestal, and I wanted to hear some gospel music. After that, I got a whole new lease on life."

Jones says he is obligated to do one more country album on his current Bandit deal and would love to do another gospel project. He is currently performing some of the music from "The Gospel Collection" during his country tour and would like to do some Christian concerts, possibly including some of Southern gospel patriarch Bill Gaither's multi-artist Homecoming shows.

"I'm just so happy to be alive," Jones says. "It's a different life all together from what I lived. My life has been changed, and it means more singing these songs today than it did years ago because I'm looking at life differently."





Excerpted from the April 26, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.

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