Hoarse George Jones tries his best at Calvin Theatre show

Poor George Jones. The country icon has been ill of late, and it showed Friday night at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, where No Show Jones showed up for a date postponed from July. Give him credit for the effort — hell, give him credit for simply surviving to this point after long years of hard living.

But Jones, who turns 81 in a few weeks, sounded hoarse, that velvety voice responsible for some of country music’s greatest songs reduced to a throaty whisper. He gamely powered through, hitting many of the high points of his catalog without hitting any of the high notes in the songs. Even some of the classic tunes came in the economical form of just a verse or two on “She Thinks I Still Care” and “White Lightning,” both of which came toward the end of his 75-minute set. Jones seemed like he was fine spirits all the same, giving his all on “Tennessee Whiskey,” joking when he lost his train of thought during a moment of stage banter (“I forgot my routine!”) and adding a self-deprecating note to backup singer Brittany Allyn’s merchandise pitch. “I don’t need the money,” Jones cracked, “but my creditors do.”

Allyn handled vocals at the start of the show before Jones came out, played the part of Tammy Wynette on duets including “Golden Ring” and helped fill in when Jones couldn’t quite muster the force he needed to nail down “Why Baby Why” at the start or “He Stopped Loving Her Today” toward the end.

By contrast, Northampton’s Salvation Alley String Band opened the show with a half-hour deft set of jumped-up western tunes thick with steel guitar, harmony vocals and lyrics about loving, losing and leaving — classic country themes, in other words, and a more than fitting accompaniment to a classic country headliner, even when he wasn’t at his best.

— Eric R. Danton

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