Written by Jordan Stacey. – J.R.
After having a very successful run in the early 90’s most “hat acts” faded away toward the end of the decade in favor of the crossover artists like Shania Twain. Alan Jackson however, was able to keep his success going and while there’s no telling what it was that kept him in the spotlight, I would credit his continued output of high quality material along with his masterpiece album Drive. Throughout the rest of the decade he put out many albums that attracted a lot of attention. However with his major hits Drive and Greatest Hits II on one side, and his artistic adventures Precious Memories and Like Red On A Rose on the other, What I Do was kind of ignored in the grand scheme of things.
Sure, the first two singles went Top 5 and the other two both made it to #18, but when talking about Alan in the 00’s What I Do is unjustly left out of most conversations; even his weakest album, When Somebody Loves You, gets more press writing. What I Do, like every single Alan Jackson album, was certified gold by the RIAA. It would eventually go platinum as well. To date, Jackson has released 13 studio albums, all of which have gone gold or better, including his covers and gospel albums. It’s also worth mentioning that 12 of these have sold over 1 million copies (and several going into multi-platinum status), with 2005’s adult contemporary-leaning Like Red On A Rose stopping short of platinum, but still moving over half a million copies to earn its own certification. Such is the star power of Alan Jackson, and the consistency of good to great material in his catalog throughout his career.
This particular album was released September 9, 2004, and is one of the strongest albums Alan recorded in the past decade. It’s one of the albums I reference when I am talking about how traditional country should have evolved. There’s your drinking songs (‘Strong Enough’), your love songs (‘If Love Was A River’), your religious song (‘Monday Morning Church’), honky tonk song (‘Burnin’ The Honky Tonks Down’) and your country ditty (‘The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues’).
Now while I think very highly of this album, I do know why it is the least talked about album. It hits every note it’s supposed to, it sounds great, with Alan delivering every song in his signature delivery. However that’s the problem, there was nothing new on this album; it’s a strong collection of songs that we’ve unfortunately all heard before. Most of these songs sound like you could insert them on the four previous albums he’d released and they’d fit right in. Consistency is great, look what it’s done for George Strait; he’s rarely experimented with his sound and he’s now one of the most successful country singers in history. Alan though has done more or less the same throughout his career but this is the first album where it’s so strongly felt. Fifteen years into your career is about when taking risks should be done – which he did on his next three albums.
Before I leave you to go listen to the album yourself I’d like to highlight some of the better songs for you. First up is my favorite from the album, which was also the second single, ‘Monday Morning Church’. The song, featuring Patty Loveless on background vocals, is about a man whose heart is empty like a church on Monday morning now that his lover is gone. The harmonies along with the touching lyrics make this a song you don’t want to miss. I’m not religious and yet the theme really hits me hard, a testament to Alan’s artistry. Next is a little gem called ‘If Love Was A River’:
“If love was a river
And I was a drowning man
Would you get in the water
Would you lend me a hand
If love was a river would you sit on the land”
The song’s asking a girl if she’s going to love him in the way he’s loving her. Featuring backing vocals by the writers who happen to be Alan’s nephew Adam Wright and his wife Shannon Wright, it’s a very simple love song with a beautiful melody and harmonies again. The Wrights have released two albums now and while they are amazing on their own, I think Alan would do well in recording more of their material as it suits him very nicely. The last song I’m giving a recommendation to is ‘Strong Enough’, not an original lyric here or a particularly strong anything really as it features Alan’s worst vocal performance on the album, but the fiddle on this one is a welcome surprise, especially on a song that if recorded by most of the current hit makers would’ve been drowned out in a wall of “music”. This song is a drinking song that could’ve been a hit for anybody, so I commend Alan for not releasing an easy hit and leaving it as an album track, and for making sure the song was able to carry itself musically instead of buoying it up with a wall of sound.
Is this album a masterpiece? No, it’s Alan on auto pilot, but Alan gets “to do what I do” here and just sing simple songs very well. He picked a nice collection that goes down easy, sounds great and cemented the fact that when Alan Jackson is bored he still can run rings around the competition.
What I Do is widely available at all major music outlets, including amazon.