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.