After a pair of non-commercial albums that found him venturing into gospel and bluegrass, Angels and Alcohol, which was released last week, is both a return to form for Alan Jackson and his strongest collection since he parted ways with Arista Records five years ago.
Like the vast majority of Jackson’s catalog, Angels and Alcohol was produced by Keith Stegall. In many ways it is reminiscent of their best work from the 90s; there are no concessions to current trends and no attempts to chase radio hits. The current single, “Jim and Jack and Hank”, which I reviewed earlier this month, currently resides at #47 on the charts. Despite being a fun and catchy uptempo number, it’s unlikely to rise much higher in the current commercial environment.
Although I stand by the B+ rating I gave the single, I would not include it among one of my favorites from the album, because there are other more substantive songs which which a fluffy lightweight song simply cannot compete. With all due respect to Alan Jackson the songwriter, who penned seven of the album’s songs, my favorites are the three he didn’t write. Troy Jones’ and Greg Becker’s “When God Paints” is a beautiful ballad, with lyrics that are rich with imagery about life’s simple pleasures. Even better is “The One You’re Waiting On” by Adam Wright and Shannon Wright, which finds the protagonist sitting in a bar, admiring his love interest from afar, knowing that he doesn’t stand much of a chance but wondering exactly what she is holding out for. “Gone Before You Met Me”, an uptempo number by Michael White and Michael P. Heeney is about a free spirit who has long since settled down, and when he finds he is still rambling, is relieved to discover that it was only a dream. Country music needs more songs like this.
Jackson’s own compositions are nothing to sneeze at, either. The opening track “You Can Always Come Home” finds him reassuring a child who is about to leave the nest, and the title track is a beautiful ballad that is vintage Alan Jackson. It would have been a huge hit 20 years ago, and even ten years ago it might have been given a fair shot by radio. The closing track “Mexico, Tequila and Me” finds Jackson switching back to Jimmy Buffett mode, and is reminiscent of “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”.
I can’t find anything to complain about with this album. The current crop of singers who are doing their best to ruin country music (and largely succeeding), could learn a lot from Alan Jackson. There are no stretches or surprises here, just good old country music that will not leave Jackson’s fans disappointed. Sometimes that’s enough.