“The Older I Get”
Written by Adam Wright, Hailey Whitters, and Sarah Allison Turner
Country music has a bad habit of paying empty lip-service to its legends: Trotting them out to present a minor award at the ACMs, giving them a cursory round of applause when they’ve been enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame, making a grand show of public grief when they pass. But contemporary country music rarely shows any lingering influence of those legends, and it does an even poorer job of shining a light on those acts when, late in their careers, they continue to make exceptional music.
Radio decided it was done with Alan Jackson after 2009’s “Sissy’s Song” barely scraped the top 10, so there’s no reason to suspect that his new single, “The Older I Get,” will make any meaningful inroads after he takes the stage at the CMA Awards in a couple of weeks to perform the track and receive an inevitable standing ovation from an audience of artists who, by and large, try to sound as little like him as possible.
Ultimately, the fate of “The Older I Get” will only make its sentiment all the more poignant and pointed. A graceful, smartly-observed meditation on aging, “The Older I Get” is as well-written as any country song in recent memory, and it’s a letter-perfect bit of autocritique for Jackson, who continues to stride capably into his role as one of the genre’s legends.
His voice is a bit more weathered than it was during his commercial heyday, but that only lends gravitas to lines like, “The older I get, the fewer friends I have/but you don’t need a lot/When the ones that you’ve got/Have always got your back.” The production largely stays out of his way– there’s a flourish of a gospel-tinged piano and a prominent fiddle, because it’s an Alan Jackson track, so of course there are actual country instruments on it– and keeps the focus squarely on his performance. The natural warmth of Jackson’s voice ensures that a lyric about “knowing when to give and when to just not give a damn” doesn’t scan as bitter but, instead, simply sounds like hard-won wisdom.
When Jackson concludes, “I guess I’ve got more to say,” its a promise that he isn’t content to rest on his considerable laurels. If singles like “The Older I Get” are an indication of how Jackson intends to build upon his legacy, country music will be all the better for it.