Angels and Alcohol
Alan Jackson is known as reliably country and not one to chase trends, but rather, somebody who holds steady as a standard-bearer for modern traditional country music. Even so, in an effort not to become stagnant, he has kept us intrigued by also taking some detours into other genres along the way, which have included adult contemporary, bluegrass, orchestral Christmas and two gospel albums.
With these career detours notwithstanding, we still reflexively know that when he announces that he’s releasing a country album, it’s guaranteed to be exactly that, which is what we get with Angels and Alcohol.
Often a sentimentalist without being cloying, Jackson starts with the moving “You Can Always Come Home.” Fueled by his daughters leaving the nest and inspired by his father’s assurance that “you can always come home,” back when he was the one leaving the nest, he sings, “No matter how right or wrong you’ve gone, you can always come home.”
Similarly, ” I Leave the Light On” is from the perspective of a man who keeps his heart open to memories of the woman that he’s lost, so that they can come back to him whenever they want to. While he knows that she has moved on, he promises, “I’ll leave the light on for your memory, so it will be easy to come back to me.”
On one of the best tracks of the album, Jackson warns that trying to maintain a good relationship with alcohol is hazardous. You can’t mix angels and alcohol,” he observes in the country weeper. “I don’t think God meant for them to get along.”
The other four songs written by Jackson- the honky-tonkin’ “You Never Know,” the silly “Jim And Jack And Hank,” the breezy though instructive “Flaws,” and the escapist “Mexico, Tequila And Me”- are much more playful. But even with their more frivolous nature, the instrumentation and melodies are satisfying earworms.
Of the three songs that Jackson did not write, the strongest is “Gone Before You Met Me,” written by Michael Heeney and Michael White. With a sweet conclusion, the narrator realizes that the reality of being committed is better than his dream of being carefree. The Wrights composition, “The One Your Waiting On”, and the Greg Becker/Troy Jones penned “When God Paints” nicely round out the rest of the album, with the latter being a song of sincere gratitude.
While Angels and Alcohol only has ten songs, none of the songs are filler, which makes the album feel as full as the longer albums of his peers. Among those ten songs, Jackson wrote seven of them on his own, and the three songs written by others still fit very comfortably within his narrative voice. Moreover, 26 years into his incredible career, Jackson’s new album is decidedly his best specifically country album in at least a decade.
Recommended Tracks: “You Can Always Come Home,” “Angels and Alcohol,” “Gone Before You Met Me”
Love this album! I agree with your recommended tracks, and also love “I Leave a Light On,” which you wrote about beautifully in your review. I’d also recommend “The One You’re Waiting On.” I agree that it’s his best pure country album in at least a decade, even better than Thirty Miles West.
Jackson has been so consistently good for so long, but a lot of my favorite (and most played) tracks of his have been from the past few years. I haven’t been crazy about the gospel albums, but loved his detours into crooning (Like Red on a Rose) and bluegrass (The Bluegrass Album).
I think “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore” and “Blue Ridge Mountain Song” stand tall among the strongest singles of his career, and it’s a shame radio never gave them much love. If he put out this new album in 1995, he’d enjoy a few #1 hits, for sure. As it stands, I think he’ll be adding a few more entries to his list of should’ve been hits, unless he gets some bro to do a hillbilly rap as part of a remix.
Purely and simply everything that a great album of music should have, country or otherwise. “The One You’re Waiting On” is probably my favorite track on the album, followed by ” I Leave A Light On”. Those are two of the twangiest, most traditional sounding tracks too.
I’d say as far as albums he has released over the past decade is concerned, this would rate somewhere between “Good Time” on the low end and “Thirty Miles West” on the high end. It’s about even with “Freight Train” to me.
I view this as something of a placeholder album for him. It seems Jackson is not entirely sure where he wants to move from here, so decided to trot out an exquisitely-produced set of songs that aim directly for the soft spot fans have generally expected from him, but also don’t necessarily stop you in your tracks quite like “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore”.
As a whole, “Angels & Alcohols” works damn well even if there’s a relative lack of blowout moments as far as songwriting is concerned. I absolutely love the pedal steel flourishes of “The One You’re Waiting On” which absolutely fit the melancholic feel of that feeling the subject feels of sitting on tenterhooks hoping her date will finally arrive but having the devastating suspicion it’s all for naught. “You Can Always Come Home” also is one of the stronger tracks to my ears the way it serves as a mission statement when Jackson effectively ties experiences with his father by the end to what he’s passing on now to his daughter: moving from something more universal to something more personal. I really enjoyed that.
And both “Gone Before You Met Me” and “Leave A Light On” stylistically remind you of why we’ve come to love Jackson in the first place, while something as admittedly lightweight as “Mexico, Tequila & Me” nonetheless gets it right in how much escapism and good vibes it generates.
However, I feel there’s a scarcity of tracks here that have a timeless quality to them, and the last three tracks especially (along with “Jim & Jack & Hank”, which I’ve already spoken my piece about and obviously made some unhappy) are disappointingly fluffy and leave plenty to be desired lyrically.
“Flaws” comes off as surprisingly cliched to me. Yeah, we know we all have them, but it would have been nice if he offered several vignettes that serve as colorful cases-in-point to where we come to terms with our follies. Instead, it largely reverts to formula. Then, “When God Paints” has a nice idea going for it but errs too far on the overtly sentimental side for my tastes. And as I hinted earlier, “Mexico, Tequila & Me” does succeed in rousing a feeling of escapism, but it writes as paint-by-numbers much like “Long Way to Go” from his previous album, and at least the latter attempted to tell an amusing twist of a story that was a glass-half-full take on a breakup. This just seems obligatory and boilerplate by now.
In the end, there’s no need to feel that underwhelmed when, even though the sum of this album’s parts aren’t as impressive as those of “Thirty Miles West”, “Don’t Rock the Jukebox”, “Drive” or even his bluegrass album or his covers album “Under the Influence”……………the whole is still country gold and a shining example for this musical community as a whole which is beautifully consistent and feels right at home to the heart.
I’m thinking a strong 7 out of 10 here (for context, I’d consider “Thirty Miles West” a strong 8 to a light 9, while “Good Time” was a strong 5 to a light 6). The whole of this is solid, but the sum of its parts reveals some considerable “Flaws” and this just doesn’t strike me as an album that’s going to enhance his already amazing discography and personal story much at all much like “Freight Train”.
I won’t argue with you about your opinions of this album, since my review of the album stands as my disagreement. But I will say that I think this album is already finding it’s place in his catalog, as it’s selling quite well considering it has no radio hits and the context that albums aren’t selling like they once did.
What I meant was that, while this will definitely hit a soft spot for fans, I doubt it’s going to be among his more memorable releases. Or, to put it another way, when Alan Jackson fans twenty years from now are considering and deliberating what his most momentous works were, the albums I cited along with “Like Red On A Rose” are far more likely to drive the conversation than albums like this and most certainly “Good Time”.
I feel we’re really not that far apart in our final conclusions of the album. The only difference is you consider this a near-classic whereas I view it as a solid album that falls just short of great and particularly memorable. All in all, I think we argued most of the same points centered around the sum of its parts: especially the vocals, instrumentation and how it’s produced.
It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest it sold well in its opening week. Alan Jackson is that kind of tried-and-true living legend who can sell albums off of name recognition and a glorious track record alone. The fact that the top two albums in country music this week are both informed by honest-to-goodness traditional country (Jason Isbell is more Americana if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, but Americana is basically taking shunned Country artists as of late under their wing as is) is a huge victory at any rate! =)