The Rock: Stone Cold Country 2001

The greatest country singer ever may not be throwing 100 m.p.h.

The greatest country singer ever may not be throwing 100 m.p.h. fastballs any more at age 70, but he still has enough vocal tricks up his sleeve to put together yet another classic album. Jones' first effort for Bandit (a BNA imprint of which he's a part owner) capitalizes on the singer's still-potent lower register and mastery of tone, which he uses to great effect on such soulful ballads as the title cut, the timely "50,000 Names," and the vintage, '70s-styled "Honey Hush." Jones has never needed Garth Brooks to go for a goofy novelty, but they do fine with "Beer Run" (though how it took five A-list songwriters to come up with this track is a mystery). Much more satisfying are the swampy, smoldering "Wood and Wire," the bitter regret and stellar production of "Half Over You" (with Patty Loveless), and the tailor-made Billy Joe Shaver classic "Tramp on Your Street." When Jones summons up a world-weary stoicism on "I Am" he sounds battle-scarred but completely unbowed, and he evokes the very heart of everything that country music ever hoped to be.—RW