Few have so done more to maintain the sound and spirit of classic country in the face of ever-changing fads than Alan Jackson. Fiddles and pedal steel still frame his warm, earthy voice. His original compositions, most written without collaborators, range from subtle and sentimental to hard-hitting, regardless of topic. This ballad-heavy, 21-track collection – his first since 2015 – reaffirms those strengths.
A crack Nashville studio band backs his vocals, including guitarists Brent Mason and J.T. Corenflos, resophonic players Scotty Sanders and Rob McNelley, with empathetic pedal steel from Paul Franklin. Together, they create a sound echoing decades long past. Steel, resophonic, and electric lead guitars enhance Jackson’s performance on “Where the Cottonwood Grows” with varying, yet appropriate interludes of twang.
The tempo jumps on “Livin’ on Empty” as incandescent amplified and resophonic guitars overlap breaks, followed by white-hot slide guitar shredding. The rocking “Back” crackles with similar aggressive fretwork. An austere acoustic texture frames “This Heart of Mine,” a ballad in the George Jones tradition. On the nostalgic “So Late So Soon,” expressive guitar breaks match every shading of Jackson’s vocal. Once more, he provides a powerful lesson in the enduring joys of the traditional; Alan’s musicians do likewise.
This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.