The Rock: Stone Cold Country 2001 (Bandit/BNA Records)

Every George Jones album hangs on this question: Are the songs as good as the voice? You know the voice - one that has looked into its owner's soul so deeply it can see into yours, a sound that makes every wound beautiful. It's a voice that can elevate a good song to greatness - or make a lousy one sound almost guilty in its unworthiness. This time, we get lucky. Most of The Rock's dozen tracks are deserving of the voice.

Most winning are the ballads. There's a gorgeous song here for every phase of love's dissolution. The title cut is a defiant first goodbye, "Half Over You" is about the pain that comes next, and "What I Didn't Do" is all self-incriminating regret. Moving from affairs of the heart to less-trodden ground, The Rock only grows stronger. "Tramp On Your Street" is an affecting nod to George's hero, Hank Williams, while "50,000 Names" - which starkly describes the Vietnam Veterans Memorial - is a reminder, during these times of American heroism, that not all heroes are honored so quickly.

Best of the livelier tracks is the instant-hit Garth Brooks duet, "Beer Run." And while it may be hard to swallow a celebratory salute to the sudsy stuff only two and a half years after George was nearly killed in an alcohol-related car crash, just chalk it up to the

sturdiness of the country drinking song - a tradition as complicated, revealing and enduring as the man who owns the voice itself.

- Chris Neal

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