by Aprille Hanson
Alan Jackson is helping to save country music by not caring. His latest album Angels and Alcohol may have debuted at No. 2 on the US Top Country Albums Billboard chart, but it’s unlikely any song from it will get much airtime on country radio.
However, the good news is that it’s good quality music like we’ve come to expect from Jackson since his first album in 1989. He isn’t trying to cater to the new generation of listeners which is refreshing.
The 10-track album, with seven songs written exclusively by Jackson, features a little bit of every common, country theme. “You Can Always Come Home” will relate to a lot of the parents buying this album, as they send their kids off into the real world, but knowing full well that they might just come back.
Then you have the boot-stompin’ hits like “You Never Know” — which talks about potential love interests from a “chicken leg gal” to a brunette waitress with “a curvy little bottom like a roller coaster ride” — to one of the better songs on the album, “Mexico, Tequila and Me.” ‘Mexico’ has a great set of lines which include: “Check my life there at the border / everything over my shoulder / just Mexico, tequila and me.” It’s one of those quintessential Jackson tunes that make him relatable, like “Good Time” and “Chattahoochee.”
His first single “Jim and Jack and Hank” is easily the weakest on the album and borderline plagiarism. While it’s definitely catchy and a fun sing-along about a woman who packs her bags, grabs her little dog and hits the road, lines like these are too simple and just seem to exist to have the rhyme: “Well, now you left screaming your tires screeching / that little dog right in your lap / I became a little sad and called up my ol’ dad / He said son, you just woke me from my nap.”
The other problem is the melody. Anyone who listened to country music in the 1990s remembers Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” which had massive crossover success upon its release in 1992. Jackson certainly has to remember, even if it’s subconscious, because if you listen to the verses of ‘Jim’ you can almost sing the words to ‘Heart.’ I hope this song does have some radio success to entice younger people to check out his music, but it’s just too easy for Jackson. “Flaws” is another safe one for him, but it’s a fun little ditty and I’ll dare you not to smile when Jackson admits “I snore when I’m asleep / got long and lanky feet,” telling us his flaws.
Luckily, there are incomparable heartbreak and love songs he penned like “The One You’re Waiting On” and “I Leave a Light On” which any true country music lover will respect. “Angels and Alcohol,” might be short, but its Jackson at his finest, with simple, yet truthful lyrics like “You can’t mix angels and alcohol / an angel once loved me and I traded it all / I let the bottle drive my life into a wall / You can’t mix angels and alcohol.”
For as much talent in songwriting as Jackson displays here, the two best songs on the album are written by others -- “Gone Before You Met Me,” by Michael White and Michael Heeney and “When God Paints,” by Troy Jones and Greg Becker.
‘Gone’ is about a man who has a dream, traveling with ramblers Tom Sawyer and later author Jack Kerouac, and how he comes to realize how lucky he is that his “restless heart found a heart I can call mine,” the love of his life. The song is upbeat and the lyrics unfold like a dream with unmatched creativity: “Well, I hitched a ride with this beatnik guy / He said, looks like you read me / My name is Jack Kerouac / And I was gone before you met me.”
It’s one of those songs that includes both this need in most of us to ramble, but then to realize how good it is to meet that special someone. It’s pure country life written in a unique way.
For as inspiring as ‘Gone’ is, “When God Paints,” will melt any Christian’s heart. This imagery of the savior sitting at his canvas and painting even the simplest things, like every color on a sparrow’s wing, is powerful. The best lyrics are easily: “When God paints / A heart beats / A life begins, a season ends and lovers meet / And I’ve learned that sometimes / It’s not always black and white or well-defined when God paints.”
With Jackson’s drawl and this bigger-than-life concept of our creator taking careful strokes like a painter makes this song not only beautiful and romantic but a spiritual experience.
On this latest album’s leaflet, it includes a long quote that Jackson said when his first album Here in the Real World was released, talking about how he came to Nashville to carry on the tradition of “hard-core Country music.”
“And what I intend to do is give ‘em what they want — something real,” Jackson said in 1989.
Angels and Alcohol isn’t Jackson’s best, but in a sea of fake out there, it’s real.