1990. Heart broken by some girl, surrounded myself with fey indie white boys with guitars, my soundtrack to the dismal autumn was Pixies, Wedding Present and The Senseless Things. They would get me through it, that and cheap beer. My father’s advice to getting over a girl was playing me Here In The Real world by Alan Jackson, his debut single and the title track from his 1989 album. One love affair was consigned to dust and the start, unknowingly of another. A purely platonic love of Alan Jackson.
Of course I didn’t know it at the time, I didn’t even get what he was talking about, I’m no cowboy, I don’t get the film metaphors, what was my father thinking. I dipped into that song a few times over the intervening years. Seeking it out regularly and about 10 years ago I put together a compilation of my 50 favourite tracks, for some reason that song featured highly. Tastes change, you get to know an artist more and over the past 6 years I have become more resolutely country, its influence has always been there, and the updated 50 favourite tracks I am currently putting together still features Here In The Real World, the difference is that track is probably my all-time favourite song. I love Alan Jackson.
July saw the release of Jackson’s 20th studio album and the first non-gospel, or bluegrass album since 2012’s Thirty Miles West. It’s been a long time coming. Like Cash, I have no truck with Alan Jackson dipping his toe in religious waters, or the rather sadly disappointing Bluegrass album. Three years though I have waited for the next installment of country tunes by Alan and his constant producer Keith Stegall.
My fear, is that Alan Jackson would feel the need to make changes, to alter his sound to appeal to a different demographic, that’s the fear. A needless fear as Alan Jackson is Alan Jackson. He doesn’t have the need to namecheck Lil Sean, he doesn’t have the need to pair up with Kid Rock, he does what he does and he does it perfectly.
So to an objective review, difficult, but I will try. You Can Always Come Home opens the album and any fears immediately dissipate. As a man that is currently moving his daughter into her first home, this song hits home rather perfectly. That said I suspect Alan Jackson doesn’t have the issue of his offspring leaving dirty cups around the house and hoarding glasses containing a centimetre of squash in their bedroom, let alone scratching their head at the thought of a can of polish and a duster, if so he might have named the tune, “you can always come home, to visit, rarely though, and lets leave it for a bit before you do”. I jest of course, as an opener is a fine song with a beautiful sentiment and if this is how the album is likely to be, the wait has been worth it.
You Never Know follows and it treads a path similar to I Don’t Even Know Her Name in feel if not lyrical content, a love song extolling that you will never know when love will hit you. Alan sticks to love songs that woo and wow, not hit you with a club over the head. He is old fashioned and of the old guard but this is not mired in the past, its stood proudly in country music.
The title track, Angels and Alcohol, a beautiful song that relies on Alan’s lyrics and Stegalls perfect production. A contender for a future single if not an instant favourite. This was a track that leaked on to YouTube via Alan’s live show and immediately it was taken to fans hearts. No co-writer, no effects, a simple, well written song.
The quality continues with a stomper of a tune, trust me, you will be tapping your foot, or playing steering wheel drums. This is as heavy as Alan Jackson gets, it’s not rock, don’t worry, it stomps along, I Was Gone Before You Met Me. It’s wrong to compare it to anything as effectively in main stream country music Alan Jackson isn’t looking to emulate, sadly few are looking to emulate what he is doing either.
The One You’re Waiting On, is a gorgeous song, a little like George Strait’s The Chair, lyrically, and musically the more I think of it. The subject of the song, waiting for someone and our storyteller wonders if he could be that man? One of only 3 songs Jackson didn’t have a hand in writing, but the quality regardless of writer doesn’t dip, this is written by duo The Wrights, one half of which is Alans nephew, its sublime, it’s a future mixtape favourite.
The pace picks up with Jim and Jack and Hank. I love a drinking song and I love a drinking song that namechecks the country music I love, and I love a drinking song that name checks the country music I love and kicks a trifling woman out the door. Toby does it well, Alan does it better. This single seemingly wasn’t Spring Break enough, faultless as it is, it faltered in the Country 40. But who cares Alan has Jim and Jack and Hank.
I Leave A Light On is typical Alan Jackson, I suspect he knows what his audience love and as this album, as of writing has already took the top spot on the Country Top 40 it’s not just his core audience that love this. Its strength is in what attracted me to country music in the first place, its gentility, its lack of pretension and its timelessness and I Leave A Light On demonstrates all of this.
Time draws on and with Flaws and When God Paints, we see Alan being reflective, both on what he loves and himself, we all have flaws he tells us, his wonky eye, which is odd, never noticed, now maybe I won’t be able to unsee it, and When God Paints he sings of the beauty in the world, created, in his words by God, but also the beauty in an unnamed love. He does however labour more on Gods hand in the world, this I appreciate, as an atheist I can still appreciate a good gospel song and he makes this sound like a standard love song.
Sadly the end comes round far too soon, Mexico, Tequila and Me. You can guess what it will be like purely from the title, I hear elements of Easton Corbin’s Lot To Learn About Livin in this, no poor thing at all considering I see Easton Corbin as the modern successor of Alan Jackson, it’s a great, strong, fun note to end on.
1. You Can Always Come Home
2. You Never Know
3. Angels and Alcohol
4. I Was Gone Before You Met Me
5. The One You’re Waiting On
6. Jim and Jack and Hank
7. I Leave A Light On
9. When God Paints
10. Mexico, Tequila and Me
I guess if you line up all of Alan Jackson’s albums, it isn’t Don’t Rock The Jukebox, it isn’t Here In The Real World, it is however a very very strong return from country music’s statesman. I have had it on repeat since the day I bought it, and as payback for my father, he took delivery of a copy on Monday. Alan Jackson has delivered an album that is the musical equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn, it sits uncomfortably among the mainstream that Alan is part of, but people are voting for it. That is a win for everyone.
You Can Always Come Home, The One You’re Waiting On, Angels and Alcohol
Six Shooter Rating
10 out of 10