Album Review – Alan Jackson’s ‘Angels And Alcohol’

Alan Jackson Angels And Alcohol

In the past few years of country music, there hasn’t been many great certainties to count on. There were plenty of bad of course. We could count on bro country being a parasite that infects the genre for years to come and is still to this day. We could count on more trend chasing and more outsiders coming into the genre to further muck up the sound of country music. We could count on awards shows continuing to turn into giant mockeries and glorified advertising showcases. All of these negative things we could count on to bring us down. It overshadows some of the good things we can count on and one of those things is Alan Jackson. Here’s a country artist for over 25 years has kept it country and plans on keeping it country for the rest of his career. Here’s a man who has never been afraid to stand up for what’s right for the genre. His protest performance at the 1999 CMA Awards for cutting out George Jones’ performance and his collaboration with George Strait on the song “Murder on Music Row” are fine examples of this.

Alan Jackson is no doubt a shining example of what everything a country music fan should want in their country artists: honesty, respect and quality. For several years Jackson has been a beacon of light, especially in the recent dark years. While some older artists have embarrassingly chased trends and have tried desperately to remain in the mainstream eye, Jackson has accepted his falling out at mainstream and on country radio with grace. He hasn’t changed his approach at all with his music and continues to do things the way he wants to. So when I heard he was releasing a new album this year I was obviously ecstatic, as were many other country fans. Here was something that we could always count on to deliver. This would be the first country album Jackson has released in years, as in 2013 he released The Bluegrass Album, the first record where he tackled bluegrass. By the way, it’s a great album I highly recommend checking out. His new album was released this past Friday and it’s titled Angels And Alcohol. And just as we could all count on, it’s a great country album.

The first song on Angels And Alcohol feels like classic Alan Jackson and it reminded me just how much I missed new music from him. “You Can Always Come Home” is about a father encouraging their kid to spread their wings and explore new places. Regardless of what happens though, the kid can always come home because it will always be there for them. From the instrumentation to the lyrics to the vocals, this is a reminder of why people love Jackson. This is an excellent song to kick the album off. The fun and upbeat “You Never Know” is next. It’s a not so serious song of unexpectedly finding love and is one of those songs where you enjoy the instrumentation much more than the lyrics. I say this because the lyrics are nothing special and borderline checklist. But as I say the instrumentation and Jackson’s vocals make this song enjoyable.

The album’s title track, “Angels And Alcohol,” tackles the subject of mixing love and alcohol. The point of the song is you can’t really put these together, otherwise your love will leave and all you’re left with is the alcohol. Then as Jackson sings, “You can’t chase lonely, with a bottle of wine.” It’s unsurprisingly mature approach from Jackson on drinking and love. This is another one of those vintage Jackson songs you can play over and over. “Gone Before You Met Me” is a take on the classic country theme of rambling man who’s too rowdy to settle down and wants to continue to live life on the road. At least that’s what you think before the man in the song realizes it was all a dream and that he still has his wife and kids and living the good life. It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve heard a song that praises family life over the party life in mainstream country and it’s nice to know Jackson is still keeping this theme alive.

As much as I enjoy the first few songs of this album, the absolute gem to me is “The One You’re Waiting On.” The song is about a man watching a woman in the bar constantly check her phone and looking around, waiting for her man to call her or show up. The man wonders about whom she is waiting on and how this man could keep a woman like her waiting. He wishes he were the one she was waiting on because he would treat her the way she deserves to be treated. Only an artist like Jackson could pull off a song like this one due to the nuance of the theme. If you give this to a bro country artist, you end up with a song like Old Dominion’s “Break Up With Him,” a song that portrays the guy wanting the girl in a committed relationship as a manipulative douche. Or you get a three-fourths formed song like Zac Brown Band’s “Keep Me In Mind,” which has the same theme as “The One You’re Waiting On,” but doesn’t have the emotional appeal. I would also be remiss if I also didn’t praise the great instrumentation of this song, with the acoustic and steel guitars accompanied by the mandolin. If I had to pick my favorite song from Angels And Alcohol, it would be “The One You’re Waiting On.”

The lead single of the album, “Jim And Jack And Hank,” follows. It’s a breakup song where the husband’s wife has left him and with her she takes all of the things that annoyed him, from the “sparkling waters” to that “damn perfume” he never liked. He goes to his father, who tells him this is a great thing and that he still has his friend Jim (Beam), Jack (Daniels) and Hank (Williams). In other words, this is your classic breakup/drinking song. I’ve seen a lot of people compare this song to Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” and I just don’t hear it. The themes are pretty similar, but that’s all I see. “Jim And Jack And Hank” is an enjoyable breakup song, whereas “Achy Breaky Heart” is an annoying excuse for music, so I think the comparison is invalid. Jackson slows it down with “I Leave A Light On.” It’s a heartbreak song where a man is struggling to get over lost love and “leaves a light on” for her memory. This is to not only make it easier to accept her back if she would come back, but to also help cope with the pain. I think this song definitely captures the feeling of someone going through heartbreak well and once again Jackson takes us to school on how to make good ole fashioned country music.

“Flaws” is a song about how everyone has their flaws and how we should embrace them and be ourselves. In other words, don’t let flaws get you down. I don’t think I’m the only one who heard this song and could’ve easily pictured Kacey Musgraves singing it, as these types of songs have been a staple of her catalogue. The theme and message of this song is nice, but I wish it had given more reasons to connect with it. A short anecdote could have easily accomplished this, but instead it’s just a good platitude song. Jackson once again hits another homerun on this album with “When God Paints.” From the first listen of this song, I could feel it. When it comes down to it, this is basically a love song about life. Jackson sings of how the way God paints makes him feel a lot of different things, from doubt when it rains to marveling when he sees the beauty of stuff around him. For some, I think they’ll find this song to be a little corny. But to me it’s a heartfelt song. If this had come out in the late 90s or even mid-2000s it would have no doubt been a huge hit on radio. It won’t now of course, but this is an album cut you better not overlook.

Angels And Alcohol closes out with “Mexico, Tequila And Me.” It’s your classic, feel good summer song from Jackson. It amazes me how he can pull these songs off without annoying me or leaning heavily on current trends. I think this speaks volumes to Jackson’s overall charisma and artistic eye to find a happy balance between being fun and keeping it country. This is the perfect song to listen to while driving down the road on a hot summer day and an example of the kind of songs country radio should be playing at this time of the year.

This may not be the best country album of the year. But to me it’s one of the most important. Angels And Alcohol symbolizes a pillar in country music, one of the few left. It’s one of the last pillars that represent the foundation and roots of country music. In other words, it’s a reminder of something we can count on. Alan Jackson, as along as he is still making music, will produce country music that we can all enjoy and respect at the same time. He’s a legend that we’re lucky to still have around to remind everyone how it’s supposed to be done. Regardless of how you feel about this album or whatever grade you assign it, it should bring a smile to your face that Alan Jackson is still making fantastic country music in 2015.

Grade: 9/10

 

12 thoughts on “Album Review – Alan Jackson’s ‘Angels And Alcohol’

  1. Zack July 21, 2015 / 11:38 am

    Glad I’m not the only one who didn’t hear the “Achy Breaky Heart” thing in J&J&H. I found it to be an enjoyable humorous song. Honestly I like every song on here except for “Flaws”. It’s not bad but it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the album. As someone who is leaving for college soon, “You Can Always Come Home” is a song that means a lot to me, so it really couldn’t have come at a better time and might be possibly one of my favorite Alan Jackson songs.

    Honestly I still don’t know which album I like better between Jason Isbell and Alan. I graded both 4.5/5 but I love them both a lot. Definitely two more worthy albums of 2015!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Josh Schott July 21, 2015 / 12:13 pm

      “Flaws” along with “You Never Know” were the only two songs I felt were out of place too. Definitely the lesser two songs of the album and what held it back from possibly getting a 10/10.

      My only other complaints with this and Jackson are there isn’t a vinyl edition of this and Jackson’s tour isn’t coming through my neck of the woods. Haha! Otherwise I would be throwing even more money towards Jackson.

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  2. Derek Hudgin July 21, 2015 / 11:49 am

    The “Achy Breaky Heart” comparison, I think, exists in the melody of the verses in “Jim and Jack and Hank.” The way the chords progress and the musical beat sort of fits with the progression of “don’t tell my heart, my achy, breaky heart…” The comparison’s are not for the two song’s respective content at all.

    Anyways… This is a great album! Alan sounds just as great as he did 25 years ago. 9/10 in my book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott July 21, 2015 / 12:10 pm

      Ah okay. I can maybe hear this, although it’s not too similar. But yeah this is a great album and Jackson is as great as ever.

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  3. Megan Conley July 21, 2015 / 12:55 pm

    I can’t hear the “Achy Breaky Heart” thing either. 9/10 for me as well.

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  4. Nadia Lockheart July 21, 2015 / 1:37 pm

    I already graded this on Saving Country Music, so I’m going to copy and paste some of what I said there here.

    *

    This is somewhere directly between “Good Time” on the low end of the quality continuum and “Thirty Miles West” on the high end. Probably roughly about where “Freight Train” is: which struck me as a sort of sidestep album that started to get him steeped back into what he does best but also lacking the standout songs and memorable qualities that mark his best work.

    I feel, much like “Freight Train”, “Angels & Alcohol” is something of a sidestep for Jackson while he pontificates where to take his passion from here on out. A placeholder album, if you will.

    *

    What this album undoubtedly has going for it in spades is, as you would expect, is the all-around production, instrumentation and tone. Like an old, trusty pair of boots that fit just right after all these years, “Angels & Alcohol” fits just right and doesn’t disappoint as far as remaining true to his trademark sound and authentic country soul.

    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: 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” effortlessly 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 still maintain smacks as a little sexist in its framing) are disappointingly fluffy and leave plenty to be desired.

    “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 by now.

    *

    Still, I can’t get too underwhelmed here, because 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’m just glad to hear Jackson as always, even if I don’t expect him to ever have another radio hit on his own.

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    • Megan Conley July 21, 2015 / 2:59 pm

      Why do you consider “Jim and Jack and Hank” sexist at all?

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      • Nadia Lockheart July 21, 2015 / 5:26 pm

        It’s the way it is framed, lyrically, that I can’t help but get that vibe.

        In the first verse, we see the fallout as the subject walks out on the narrator: which in itself is no big deal because that happens in acrimonious break-up situations. But then you get to the chorus; where Jackson rattles off a list of possessions she can keep including “all that stuff for ladies” and sparkling water and so forth………………which at best seems to once again insinuate that most women in divorce situations are hungry for possessions and are pickpockets. This is most certainly not the first time this caricature had been projected in song (Montgomery Gentry‘s “I’ll Keep The Kids” springs to mind), but it’s still kind of startling hearing from someone like Jackson.

        And then he utters: “You’re just a total blank!” I don’t exactly know what to make of that line. Considering the many definitions of blank, is he simply stating she’s of no use to him any longer, or is he saying “blank” to mask a more profane word he thinks of her in his mind? I concede it may just be me, but that nonetheless was an off-putting moment to me.

        Finally, there’s the broader framing to consider. In the verses and chorus, the sole female mentioned (his ex) is scorned, while every other character and proper noun he alludes to is male and is regarded as a voice of reason or wisdom. In the second verse, Jackson describes his father overhearing much of the feud after being woken from his nap and, after explaining the situation to him, says that he had her figured all along and he’s better off forgetting about her. Fair enough. But when you also consider all three proper nouns in the title referring to males………………and you have to wait until the outro to hear the narrator cite two females (that is two traditional female country legends) favorably.

        *

        Now I know Jackson is a gentleman and most respectful of women, and I know his intentions were pure writing this like he writes any song. But even if you don’t consider the framing of the songwriting here mildly sexist whatsoever, it’s hard not to argue Jackson is STILL a lot better than this and it came across as juvenile to my ears.

        Of course, I’ll admit that I’ve never been a fan of acrimonious break-up songs in the first place. I get why they exist, and I also get they are probably something of an acquired taste. But much more often than not, those type of songs just smack as juvenile and needlessly bitter and make everyone involved look like assholes. Breaking up hurts badly, and I know emotions tend to rub rather raw in such instances. I just find such experiences are a lot more nuanced than how most songs of that sort make them out to be.

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  5. Cobra July 21, 2015 / 4:14 pm

    “Flaws” reminded me a bit of “Little Moments” from Brad Paisley. It’s one song that I found a bit out of place on the album, but didn’t find to necessarily be a poor song. I like “You Never Know.” It’s a reminder that that kind of song can be done and if done well, can be enjoyable without coming across as pompous.

    “The One You’re Waiting” on is a song I really liked a lot. It reminded me of “A Heart Like Hers,” from Strait’s album “It Just Comes Natural” and like you said in your review, doesn’t feel like the narrator of the song is a creepy douche.

    The title track and “Gone Before You Met Me” are definitely some early favorites of mine from this album.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadia Lockheart July 28, 2015 / 1:10 pm

      “Flaws” was the weakest link to my ears mostly because the lyrics lack any interesting perspective or personal touch.

      And as examples of said flaws, he cites 1) tattoo scars, 2) a wrinkle on a woman’s nose, 3) having a left eye arched higher than his right, 4) snoring and 5) having long feet. I actually fail to see how those can even be considered flaws. It’s to the eye of the beholder, I suppose, but “Flaws” would have been a MUCH better song if the writers focused more on a moral relativist standpoint and pointed out flaws in terms of character and personality that make us human.

      I actually didn’t mention “You Never Know” in my review, but mostly because it sums up how I feel about the album as a whole: it’s exquisitely produced with the great raging bluegrass-romp flavor and Jackson’s charismatic touch, but lyrically is lightweight. Nothing offensive for sure, but nothing memorable all the same. Just enjoyable for what it is.

      With me, “The One You’re Waiting On” and “You Can Always Come Home” are the two favorites.

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