Picking up only a matter of months after its predecessor, Walk Through This World with Me, left off, Bear Family's four-disc box A Good Year for the Roses -- The Complete Musicor Recordings, 1965-1971: Pt. 2 runs through the last half of George Jones' stint with Musicor, a period that showed a greater sonic variety than his preceding two and a half years with the label yet ultimately illustrates that George's partnership with producer and manager Pappy Daily had reached a dead end. Always eager to make a quick buck, Daily steered George toward the weirdest quick cash-in he ever recorded, pushing the trippy folk-rock mock-protest song "Unwanted Babies" upon Possum, its swirling minor-key march sounding like psychedelic 1967 but like nothing else here. The rest of the music on the box is firmly within the tradition established by the first Musicor set, meaning there's plenty of hard honky tonk and ballads, but within that Jones is beginning to branch out, building upon the Bakersfield and Roger Miller influences evident on Walk Through This World with Me, but also edging toward richer, detailed productions, a sound evident on both the dense "Burn Another Honky Tonk Down" and the gorgeous, elegant title track. Pappy may have pushed "A Good Year for the Roses" on George, hearing a hit when the singer didn't, but that doesn't mean he was showing any more care in recording his label's lone star. He still fed Jones songs from his publishing house, not caring much about their quality, happy to re-record old songs once again and filling out a session by covering current hits. This situation was only exacerbated at the end of George's time at the label, when he was burning through songs intent on ending his contract, re-recording tunes he originally did when he first started at Musicor!
Emphasizing quantity over quality didn't much bother Daily -- it gave him more product to sell or to license later to RCA -- which is one of the primary reasons Jones was eager to leap from Musicor to Epic, where he would be able to duet with his new love, Tammy Wynette, and record with her producer, Billy Sherrill, yet listening to A Good Year for the Roses as a body of work it's possible to understand Pappy's side of things. At his worst, which didn't arrive all that often, George was still a compelling vocalist, and his Musicor recordings are uniformly enjoyable, even with subpar performances and slapdash productions. Pappy could package this stuff and sell it to satisfied customers because it was always good and occasionally transcendent. As on Walk Through This World with Me, it can take some digging to ferret out those gems, but it's a pleasurable hunt, more so than before due to that greater sonic variety, which also happens to be the very thing that illustrates beyond a doubt that George Jones could achieve more artistically than he did here. At Musicor, he was treated as a hitmaking machine, churning out pure product without discrimination. At Epic, he was treated as an artist and wound up with bolder records that turned into bigger hits. Some have called those Sherrill productions overblown, but after listening to George's Musicor recordings in their entirety, it's easy to see why Jones was eager to be over-produced: he had spent too long with no production at all.