The easy, breezy Alan Jackson doesn't get topical on his new album, as he's done in the past. Nor does he perform a duet with Jimmy Buffett. But there's no doubt that he has another winner with today's release of "What I Do," which cements his role as a neotraditionalist who can do no wrong in the minds of working-class fans and Nashville power-brokers.
The tally is this: a couple of drinking songs, a few breakup tunes, a start-over song, and an I-am-grateful coda of "To Do What I Do." On the latter track, he sings of paying dues with "drunks who don't listen and crowds that don't care" but says of his current stardom: "The thrill when I hear you singin' along has been worth everything I've been through."
This is payback time for Jackson, who has won two consecutive entertainer of the year awards from the Country Music Association and just received seven CMA nominations for this fall's awards -- including one for musical event of the year for collaborating with Buffett on Hank Williams's "Hey Good Lookin'," which is on Buffett's latest disc.
Jackson's new album is only going to build more momentum, if that's possible. Although there is no galvanizing track such as his 9/11 lament, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," there is a steady stream of top-flight, authentic-sounding country songs. And he wrote half of them himself (a high percentage for Nashville stars) like someone who has closely studied the masters from Merle Haggard and Webb Pierce to George Strait and Johnny Paycheck.
Jackson's latest assault on the charts is the new single, "Too Much of a Good Thing," which leads off the CD. Flavored with fiddle, pedal steel, and twangy, chicken-pickin' lead guitar licks, it is the happiest song of the lot. The track, about how lucky he is to have a woman who is all smiles in the morning and all kisses at night, includes the hammy but effective chorus: "Too much of a good thing -- is a good thing. And we've got a good thing goin' on." OK, it's not Shakespeare, but Jackson doesn't have to show off anymore. This is the same fellow who in the past wrote such clever country updates as "Three Minute Positive Not Too Country Uptempo Love Song" and "www.memory."
The more weepy numbers are the best of the new tracks. They include "Rainy Day in June" (his reaction to getting a "Dear John" letter left on his pillow), "You Don't Have to Paint Me a Picture" (as down and out as anything he's done), and the midtempo "If French Fries Were Fat Free," which was a fan favorite when he played it on his last tour that stopped at the
The only flop is "USA Today," which plays on the name of that newspaper to create a contrived portrait of a man in distress. Unfortunately, the best that can be said about it is that it's free publicity for the paper. Otherwise, it's a dull loser, a rarity for Jackson.
But that's the only speed bump on this streamlined honky-tonk highway. Outstanding tracks include the fast shuffle of "Burnin' the Honky Tonks Down" (about a woman who goes nuts with a little freedom under her belt) and the drinking song "Strong Enough," with the cogent lines: "Tennessee you don't make the whiskey, California you don't make the wine, Mexico you don't make the tequila, strong enough to get her off my mind."
The show-stopper, though, is "The Talkin' Song Repair Blues." Written by Dennis Linde, it's about an auto mechanic who uses car-talk jargon to snow a songwriter into paying $800 for repairs, then demands that the writer listen to a few of his songs. At that point, the songwriter resorts to musical jargon: "You've got a bad safety problem with that dominant chord with the augmented fifth/ Just see how dangerously high it raises you up."
From funny songs to barroom confessionals, Jackson again does it all.