This three-disc set should be subtitled “The Arista Years,” since it only spans the 20 years Jackson was with that label – the first artist signed to its country division.
He followed in the steps of traditionalists like George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, and Randy Travis, playing real, undiluted country but managing to get on Nashville radio – and the country charts. Jackson’s hooked-filled honky-tonk (mostly originals) clocked 20 #1 singles and 20 more Top Ten hits in the first dozen years of his career.
The 59 cuts here feature plenty of fine guitar work (not to mention other instruments), but it takes a bit of research to discover who’s behind it. That’s a major fault of the compilation, produced by Debbie Doubler, Jackson’s manager. The 60-page booklet credits the various photographers but not the people who made the music.
The lead (and bender) guitar on nearly every song is courtesy Brent Mason. Some of his most memorable solos and fills are on “Don’t Rock The Jukebox,” “Chattahoochee,” Jackson’s hoedown cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” and K.C. Douglas’ “Mercury Blues,” patterned after David Lindley’s version.
Paul Franklin’s pedal steel work is also superlative. In fact, all the session players shine, and deserve attribution.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’16 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.