Alan Jackson

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By Denise Torenbeek.

Angels & Alcohol…

With the retirement of George Strait from touring last year, Alan Jackson stands alone and aloft as premier elder statesman and standard bearer for traditional country, and it seems ‘Heavenly intervention’ was instrumental in the birth of this album. Alan says the last letter the other George – George Jones – wrote him was literally his guideline throughout writing and recording, and that he took George’s signature ‘Keep It Country’ as a maxim.

When George Jones penned that final letter to Alan it was to request a favour, extending the invitation to Alan to join him on his final show in Nov 2013 to do a song or two. The letter also contained the poignant line, ‘I may be 81 years old but I’m not in the grave yet’ but sadly the final curtain fell sooner than he hoped, and he passed away seven months ahead of the November date. “You have been a true friend and I love you for that,” Jones wrote. “All these years of you and Denise spending time with Nancy and I is so much appreciated. Thanks for always being there for me.”

Now, as Jackson released his Angels and Alcohol album, he shared that letter with Taste of Country  in Nashville, tagging George Jones’ customary ‘Keep It Country’ signoff as the catalyst for ‘Jim and Jack and Hank’ and the desire to always keep Jones’ legacy alive.

Angels and Alcohol is Alan’s15th studio album and his first of all original material in three years – and it unquestionably does Keep It Country, profuse in simple elegance and understated mastery.

Smooth as the finest blend of whatever vintage floats your boat, laced with twin fiddle and pedal steel sounds so sweet they could dissolve bones, the honky tonk tracks are interspersed with some bluegrass-inspired ‘chipper’ numbers hosting jaw-dropping picking.

A masterclass in forty minutes of laid back country cool transported by one of the finest country voices, and Jackson is in faultless voice whether he’s crooning, swinging, two-stepping, or telling it how it is, frequently with his heart on his sleeve or tongue firmly in his cheek!

From the homely comfort of silken opener ‘You Can Always Come Home,’ through the cheeky chancing luck of ‘You Never Know’ where guitar and piano jive from mishap to serendipity turnaround, then back to banjo territory on ‘Gone Before You Met Me,’ there is no doubt you’re on the AJ highway – in the care of a super qualified captain – so kick back and cruise. At the end of many listens my favourites kept shuffling positions, but classic ‘The One You’re Waiting On’ takes the ‘tender ballads’ prize and the quirky ‘Flaws’ is something quite different with an irresistible feel.

Flaws, everybody’s got ‘em

Flaws, you can bet your last two dollars there aint no Tens

All them flaws ones you came with or you caused ‘em

Scars or tattoos that went rotten we all got flaws

‘Mexico Tequila and Me,’ the closing ‘Beunas Noches’ for the album, is a leaf out of Kenny Chesney’s songbook, name-checking sand and sangria and other symbols of escapism, reflecting on the desire to step off the wheel of ‘real life’ to recharge and reclaim the joy of the job.

Tired of the ratrace…sick of what I’m supposed to be

Not entirely unhappy but sometimes life is crappy

Angels & Alcohol is go to whoa vintage AJ with nothing lost in translation or time, and no fan could be disappointed. If I had one complaint it would be that a few of the songs might benefit from more ‘story’ as some seem overly straightforward and unresolved, but that is probably down to the ‘if it aint broke…’ system.

On the 25th anniversary of ‘Chattahoochee’ (who could forget AJ skylarking water-skiing in the now trademark knee-out jeans, the mullet, the stars ‘n stripes top boots, cowboy hat … advocating the down-home homily of learning ‘a lot about living and a little about love’) it is hard to credit Jackson, who has performed for the last four US Presidents, still claims to suffer from stage fright.

‘You know, I really do. I’m still self-conscious about going on stage, and things,” Jackson says. ‘I love singing and I love sharing my songs with people, especially if it’s something that I wrote, but still, I feel a little uncomfortable in front of people, you know?”

Jackson wrote seven of the album’s 10 original songs and they deliver good-time honky-tonk, emotional country ballads and gentle, philosophical tunes about the enduring strengths and occasional difficulties of life.

It isn’t that he has any objection to co-writing but more a case of circumstances having made it the norm for him to work alone.

“I’ve been doing that for a few years now,” Jackson said. “When I got started on Music Row, I would write with different writers. Then, once my career took off, I was gone all the time -playing a couple hundred shows a year. You weren’t home long enough to wash your clothes. I ended up writing a lot by myself, and it just kind of stayed that way.”

He drew from some well-known writers for three added tracks, including Michael White who wrote Blake Shelton‘s ‘The Baby,’ and Troy Jones, who wrote two of Billy Currington‘s biggest hits in ‘People Are Crazy’ and ‘Pretty Good at Drinking Beer.’

Jackson is taking his time these days, and Angels and Alcohol is a reflection of that forbearance and compassion. The ten country stories are familiar, although a few snap back to surprise you, but the space he leaves between thoughts and guitar licks is the glue that reinforces it.

The singer’s warm baritone is inviting. “Spread your wings, don’t be afraid to try,” the first line he sings , it doesn’t stop time, but it quiets the rat race for five-plus minutes.

His band fills the space, sometimes just with chords and fills, but occasionally with a solo when it’s required. No one will accuse Jackson of packing in too many notes on this album, not even on the two-steppin’ ‘You Never Know.’

“Think of Alan Jackson’s music much like a meal at your favourite fine restaurant. You know what to expect, but the experience invariably surpasses the memory. Jackson’s music is a substantive meal that’s elegant in its simplicity. In other words, Mr. Jackson creates music for grown-ups.” The Assoc Press opined.

… read the rest of this article in the magazine…