Alan Jackson needs no introduction. With 60 million albums sold worldwide, 50 top ten hits, and 16 CMA Awards to his name, Jackson is one of the 10 best-selling male vocalists of all time and he’s not slowing down. On the 14th May he will release a mammoth 21 track album, ‘Where Have You Gone’, and it has all the neotraditional country music ingredients that we would expect from the star.
It has been six years since Jackson released his last album, and life has provided a rich tapestry of thoughts and emotions to plough back into his music, with Jackson himself solo writing 15 of the tracks. This is a mountain of an album, taking you up to the heights of love, weddings and wholesome honky-tonk fun, and down to the depths of heartbreak and loss.
But above all this album reclaims traditional country, pinned together by steel guitars and fiddles galore, with lashings of whiskey and cottonwood. The opening track, ‘Where Have You Gone’, is an ode to traditional country and the mourning of its loss to the pop, hip-hop brand of country that more commonly cuts through today. Alan Jackson is no stranger to being vocal about the death of his type of country – his ‘Murder on Music Row’ duet with George Strait being one example – and this album makes the clear point that it is still something he laments.
Jackson is clearly emotional about this album: “It’s a little harder country than even I’ve done in the past. And it’s funny, I was driving and listening to the final mixes Keith sent me, and I started to tear up. I was surprised to get so overly emotional, but I just love this kind of music.”
It isn’t all doom and gloom, and by track 11 we’ve come full circle and are celebrating traditional country music’s return with the upbeat, barnburner, ‘Back’. “I got my boots, I got my hat/ I’m bringin’ country back,” sings Jackson. And it certainly is back, but this track’s so fast you won’t be keeping up with it at the line-dancing.
The standout tracks on the album are a trio of deeply personal songs, for two weddings and a funeral. ‘Where Her Heart Has Always Been’ was written for his mother’s funeral and is so deeply personal you almost feel like you are prying just listening to this song. It is a beautiful tribute and there is a feeling of contentment in her passing: “And now she’s dancing in the wind/ with her true love again/ where her heart has always been.” Particularly poignant is that the track opens with an old recording of his mother reading from the bible.
The two tracks written for his daughters’ weddings are equally personal and poignant, but glowing with fatherly pride. ‘You’ll Always Be My Baby’ is filled with sweet memories of his daughters growing up, from their first car to their first broken heart. And the second track written for their weddings is, ‘I Do’, with a beautifully emotive melody. It’s a love story, the kind that you would wish for a daughter.
There is also a quadruple measure of drinking songs on the album: ‘Wishful Drinkin’’ has a sultry country swing, and ‘Way Down in my Whiskey’ has a melancholy fiddle. In ‘I was Tequila’ Jackson pities himself for being the opposite of his former lover, but raises a humorous smile with the metaphor, “I was tequila, she was champagne”. But if those three tracks are so sad they leave you reaching for the whiskey yourself, ‘Beer:10’ will have you up and dancing again, with some particularly great instrumental solos from piano, guitar and fiddle, and a party-starting brass section too.
There are other surprising and lovely moments on this album. One is, ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’, a tribute to Merle Haggard, in which Jackson’s honeyed vocal tones are particularly warm and soothing. ‘I Can Be that Something’ is a moving track as he offers to help heal a woman’s heart: “I can be that place you just want to run to/ I can be that something to get you through.”
The reflection and wisdom of Jackson’s years pour over this album, with lessons for us all. Whether it is the advice of, “We only get so many trips/ around the sun/ some things matter some things don’t/ it’s up to you to choose which one,” in ‘Things that Matter’, or the opening lines of ‘The Older I Get’ in which he tells us: “The older I get/ the more I think/ you only get a minute, better live while you’re in it/ ’cause it’s gone in a blink.” He also sings that it isn’t the money that makes you rich. Judging by the heart in some tracks on this album, it’s clearly family that does that for Jackson.
Jackson says of this album: “When I write, I visualise back home and growing up. Real country songs are life and love and heartache, drinking and Mama and having a good time… but it’s the sounds of the instruments, too. The steel and acoustic guitar, the fiddle – those things have a sound and a tone… and getting that right, the way those things make you feel, that’s country, too.” So Jackson might ask ‘Where Have You Gone’, but thankfully the answer is right here.
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1. ‘Where Have You Gone’ (Alan Jackson)
2. ‘Wishful Drinkin’’ (Alan Jackson)
3. ‘I Can Be That Something’ (Alan Jackson)
4. ‘Where the Cottonwood Grows’ (Alan Jackson)
5. ‘Way Down In My Whiskey’ (Alan Jackson)
6. ‘Things That Matter’ (Robert Keith Stegall, Michael White)
7. ‘Livin’ On Empty’ (Alan Jackson)
8. ‘You’ll Always Be My Baby (Written for Daughters’ Weddings)’ (Alan Jackson)
9. ‘Where Her Heart Has Always Been (Written for Mama’s funeral with an old recording of her reading from The Bible)’ (Alan Jackson)
10. ‘The Boot’ (Adam Wright)
11. ‘Back’ (Alan Jackson)
12. ‘Write It In Red’ (Alan Jackson)
13. ‘So Late So Soon’ (Scotty Emerick, Daniel Tashian, Sarah Buxton)
14. ‘This Heart Of Mine’ (Adam Wright)
15. ‘A Man Who Never Cries’ (Alan Jackson)
16. ‘Chain’ (Alan Jackson)
17. ‘I Was Tequila’ (Alan Jackson)
18. ‘I Do’ (Written for Daughters’ Weddings) (Alan Jackson)
19. ‘Beer: 10’ (Alan Jackson)
20. ‘The Older I Get’ (Hailey Whitters, Adam Wright, Sarah Turner)
Extra Track: ‘That’s The Way Love Goes’ (A Tribute to Merle Haggard) (Lefty Frizzell, Whitey Shafer)