The Battle, from 1976, is one of the most confusing records George Jones ever released.
And, like many records from his mid-'70s period with Epic, it's an effort as inspired and emotionally satisfying as anything he has done.
While nothing touches The Grand Tour musically, The Battle is nonetheless a gorgeous record.
Released immediately after Memories of Us, the first postdivorce album the singer and his producer Billy Sherrill made after the Jones/Tammy Wynette divorce was over, The Battle is the more poignant of the two because while its title suggested a concept album, it is anything but.
In fact, it's an exercise in the conflict of emotions from sadness and loss, denial, anger, and grace.
And everything here is a love song.
There's "The Battle" itself, which tells the story.
It begins with a string section and snare drums playing the refrain from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and as a piano enters on top of the snares, Jones is telling the story of his regret for his ruthlessness and for winning the battle, but he loses to himself in the war.
The mixed emotions in "I Can't Get Over What Lovin' You Has Done" and "Baby, There's Nothing Like You" are in the classic Jones ballad style before the rambling rounder honky tonk of "The Nighttime (And My Baby)" and "I'll Come Back," two jumping country tunes that reflect an unwillingness to surrender the inevitable.
But "Wean Me" sums it all up: "If you can still believe/Take this bottle from my hand and wean me/I've got a feeling with your help/I still might be a man/Take this bottle from my hand and wean me." Too little, too late, and Jones sings it like he wishes it were still possible.
"Love Coming Down" offers more self-recrimination and begs for another opportunity, and again it's sung from the other side: the past.
Sherrill's use of he pedal steel here, which is constant in the song, adds to the depth and dimension of the lyrics.
The album closes with "I Still Sing the Old Songs" by David Allan Coe, with a fiddle mournfully playing "Red River Valley" and "Dixie" in the background, and the story is one of continuance, forbearance, and the willingness to continue and move through whatever has befallen the protagonist and "rise again." And he's still rising.