Tag Archives: Alan Jackson

Album Review: Alan Jackson, <i>Thirty Miles West</i>

Alan Jackson
Thirty Miles West

Jackson does so many basic things right on his new album that it's tempting to award him five stars right off the bat.

The production is clean, his singing doesn't get in the way of the songs, and those songs have complete ideas and actual structure.   It's the first mainstream country album in a long time that isn't overrun with production tricks, or kicking up the loudness to eleven, or playing an exaggerated personality type that's condescending to its audience.

In short, it's what we used to expect most country albums to be, but in today's climate, it sounds almost revelatory upon first listen.    Truth is, it's just a solid Alan Jackson album, and when put in the context of his own body of work, away from the comparisons to today's substandard standard-bearers, it demonstrates his usual consistency but perhaps not the creativity that has fueled his best work.

Jackson co-wrote about half the album, and he revisits some of the themes that have resulted in his greatest performances, but the latest variants are not as distinctive and memorable.   “Dixie Highway” captures his love for his upbringing and his roots, but despite charming support from Zac Brown, it's just not specific and urgent enough to meet the bar he set with “Home”, “Chattahoochee”, “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, and “Small Town Southern Man.”

“Everything But the Wings” is a beautiful love song with some poetic turns of phrase, but it doesn't have the seductive romance of “I'll Go On Loving You” or the personal poignancy of “Remember When.”  Similarly, there are some brilliant lines scattered throughout the solemn closing track, “When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey)”, but the rambling narrative lacks the potent simplicity of “Sissy's Song” and “Monday Morning Church.”

The latter of those two classics was penned by outside writers, and interestingly, it is the outside material that shines brightest on Thirty Miles West.   “You Go Your Way” is a goodbye song in the same vein as the George Strait classic “Easy Come, Easy Go”, but it's not so easy for the protagonist of this one.   It has one of those great couplets that only sounds right in a real country song, soaked in fiddles and steel guitar:  “I poured some bourbon in a coffee cup.  It's been too long since I drank too much.”

Only a man who could sing that line convincingly could also get away with the opener, “Gonna Come Back as a Country Song”, which finds him promising his wife that she needn't grieve once he's gone, providing reincarnation is real.   He'll be back as a country song, living in eternal paradise “between the fiddle and the steel guitar.”

Two breakup songs are even better.   “She Don't Get High” has something of a misleading title, with its lament being that he “don't make her fly anymore…Hard as I try, I'm not the sky she's looking for.”   Even better is the current single, “So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore”, which isn't just the best song Alan Jackson has recorded in the past few years.  It's better than nearly everyone else's best, too.

But my personal favorite moment comes from Jackson's own pen: “Her Life's a Song.”  It tells the story of a woman who loves every type of music and associates all of the big and little moments of her life with it.   He creates a totally believable character, and does so without succumbing to a single female stereotype or disparaging other genres and styles for the sake of putting country on a pedestal.    In a weird way, it's like the music lover's counterpart to the universality of “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”,  celebrating everyone's experience with music as valid and worth singing about.

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, &quot;Livin' on Love&quot;

1994 | Peak: #1

So catchy, so charming, and so full of little funny details that you can forgive him for ripping off “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane” so blatantly.

Written by Alan Jackson

Grade: B+

Next: Gone Country

Previous: Summertime Blues

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "Summertime Blues"

1994 | Peak: #1

A blatant attempt to recreate the “Chattahoochee” phenomenon.

It doesn't work.  Jackson's too old to be singing “Summertime Blues”, and the charm of the Eddie Cochran original is lost by forcing those country line-dance beats into the backing track.

It was a big hit, but “Summertime Blues” remains an artistic low point in his career.

Written by Jerry Capeheart and Eddie Cochran

Grade: D

Next: Livin' On Love

Previous: (Who Says) You Can't Have it All

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, "(Who Says) You Can't Have it All"

1993 | Peak: #4

“(Who Says) You Can't Have It All” is not just an average song of lost love. Rather, the loss translates into a certain resolution from a man who is the lord and master of his proverbial castle that has turned into nothing more than a lonely room with “a ceiling, a floor and four walls”, full of pictures and memories of the broken past.

From the first strains of the mournful fiddle, we can almost be sure that we will be treated to a pure country song. What's more, Alan Jackson's equally forlorn voice singing the opening lyrics, “A stark naked light bulb hangs over my head/ There's one lonely pillow on my double bed”, serves as confirmation that we're in for 3 minutes and 30 seconds of a deliciously straight-up country weeper that turns out to be one of Jackson's most satisfying singles yet.

Written by Alan Jackson and Jim McBride

Grade: A

Next: Summertime Blues

Previous: Mercury Blues

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Country Music Hall of Fame Welcomes Garth Brooks, Connie Smith, and Hargus “Pig” Robbins

Garth Brooks, Connie Smith, and keyboardist Hargus “Pig” Robbins will join the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.

Brooks is the top-selling country music artist in history.  At fifty, he is one of the youngest living inductees ever.

Smith is the fifth female artist to be inducted since 2008, when Emmylou Harris ended a nine year drought for female inductees.

Since playing on the George Jones classic “White Lightning” in 1957, Robbins has recorded with countless legends of country and rock music, including Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Alan Jackson, and Bob Dylan.

What’s your take on the 2012 inductees?  More importantly, who deserves to join them in 2013?

We’ll run a list of our picks for the next round. Share your suggestions in the comments!

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100 Greatest Men: #63. Clint Black

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

The Class of 1989 permanently changed the face of country music.  Clint Black was its valedictorian.

Born in New Jersey and raised in Texas, Black’s vocal talent was evident at an early age.  He played in a band with his older brothers, and taking a gamble, he dropped out of high school and pursued a solo career.

The new traditionalist movement of the early eighties inspired him to commit himself to the country music genre.   As he honed his craft throughout the eighties, he met songwriter and guitarist Hayden Nicholas, who would become an instrumental component of Black’s success.

Signing with RCA, he recorded his debut album with his road band.  Black wrote or co-wrote every track on Killin’ Time, and the 1989 release had a seismic impact on country music.  Black became the first country artist in history to have his first four singles reach #1, and the album quickly reached multi-platinum status.  Beyond its sales and radio impact, Killin’ Time was widely hailed by critics and genre enthusiasts as a masterpiece.

The impact of Black opened the doors for fellow artists like Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and Alan Jackson to find similar massive success with their debut albums.  Together, they rejuvenated the country music market, putting it on the even playing field with pop, rock, and R&B that it still enjoys today.  Black won several major industry awards, and then had another multi-platinum album with his sophomore set, Put Yourself in My Shoes.

Throughout the nineties, Black continued to write and record radio hits.  Even as his album sales cooled to platinum and then gold, he still maintained a streak of top ten hits.  It wasn’t until his 29th solo single, “Loosen Up My Strings” in 1998, that he missed the top ten.   To a certain extent, Black’s profile was reduced because of the very door that he opened.  The flood of talent that followed in his wake included major talents who soon overshadowed him.

The tail end of his run with RCA found him recording with wife Lisa Hartman Black, and they enjoyed a big hit with their duet, “When I Said I Do.”  Collaborations with Wynonna, Steve Wariner, Roy Rogers and Martina McBride also gained positive attention.   In the new century, Black took the bold step of launching his own label, Equity Records, resulting in two studio albums that achieved moderate success.  One of them, 2004’s Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic, was his most critically acclaimed set in years.

His most recent release is 2007’s Love Songs, which featured re-recordings of some of his hit ballads from the nineties.  He’s kept his profile alive with various film and television appearances, and he does some light touring, preferring at this stage to spend as much time as possible with his family.

Essential Singles:

  • A Better Man, 1989
  • Killin’ Time, 1989
  • Nobody’s Home, 1990
  • State of Mind, 1993
  • Something That We Do, 1997

Essential Albums:

  • Killin’ Time, 1989
  • Put Yourself in My Shoes, 1990
  • The Hard Way, 1992
  • Nothin’ but the Taillights, 1997
  • Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic, 2005

Next: #62. Red Foley

Previous: #64. Jerry Reed

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, “Mercury Blues”

1993 | Peak: #2

A throwaway track that ended up being a pretty big hit.

The song had been recorded several times over the years, by everyone from Steve Miller Band to Meat Loaf.  But Jackson had the biggest hit with it, with its driving beat capitalizing on the success of “Chattahoochee.”

In retrospect, it might be the least essential Jackson hit of its era.   Fun to listen to, but not worth making extra effort to seek out.

Written by K.C. Douglas and Robert Geddins

Grade: B

Next: (Who Says) You Can’t Have it All

Previous: Chattahoochee

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, “Chattahoochee”

1993 | Peak: #1

This timeless classic won CMA trophies for both Single and Song of the year, and was Jackson’s signature song for the rest of the nineties.

Why did it work so well?

Perhaps because it looked back on the innocence of adolescence with bemusement and fondness for that transitional period of life.

Or perhaps because it rhymed Chattahoochee with “hoochie coochie.”

Regardless, with so many of our male stars today in a permanent state of adolescence, “Chattahoochee” is a refreshing reminder that your late teens should shape who you are today, not who you wish you could still be.

Oh, and if you came to country music in the current century, this is the song that “Red Dirt Road” ripped off.

Written by Alan Jackson and Jim McBride

Grade: A

Next: Mercury Blues

Previous: Tonight I Climbed the Wall

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, “Tonight I Climbed the Wall”

1993 | Peak: #4

There really isn’t anything much more sad or upsetting in a relationship than cold, awkward silence. Things left unsaid or the silence after things that shouldn’t have been said can create what seems like an impenetrable, cold wall.

In his twelfth single, Alan Jackson expertly captures the forlornness of being in just such a situation. With crying steel and mournful vocals, “Tonight I Climbed the Wall” sounds like a perfect country song. Except, there’s a happy ending where, in the end, humility saves the day and the wall of silence is climbed. Ultimately, a song that manages to be both mournful and hopeful makes for an even more perfect country song.

Peaking at #4, “Tonight I Climbed the Wall” may not be one of Jackson’s signature hits, but its quality makes it one of his best.

Written by Alan Jackson

Grade: A

Next: Chattahoochee

Previous: She’s Got the Rhythm (and I Got the Blues)

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Single Review: Alan Jackson, “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore”

I guess that the best way to remind us that Alan Jackson hasn’t put out a great song in a long time is for him to put out a great song.

A deeply moving spin on the same concept that anchors “Blame it On Me”,  “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore” is the story of a man who loves the woman leaving him so much, he’s even willing to say she left him so she can save face.

As with many great country songs, the devil is in the details.  All of the direct consequences of a relationship’s end are explored, and as they get more mundane, the song becomes more powerful.   In great country music, reality always trumps fantasy.

I fear that Jackson’s remarkable run at radio may have already drawn to a close, but if there’s any justice, this will reignite his presence on the radio dial.  His new release ranks among his best work, and given that he’s one of the genre’s all time greats, that’s heady company for it to be in.

Written by Jay Knowles and Adam Wright

Grade: A

Listen: So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore

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