Alan Jackson’s New Coke?

As Readers no doubt know, not only am I a gun nut, at least as much of one as my limited budget will allow, but I am also a big music fan. And I like to spin one of my myriad cds as I clean my gun after each range trip. I can usually clean and oil the gun in the time it takes the cd to play, usually about 45-50 minutes at the longest. I know a lot of seasoned gunnies can clean their arms (at least their pistols) in a fraction of that time, but I am a bit diligent about it. You could eat off my guns after I am finished with ’em.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I was going through that post-range ritual with the Springfield 1911, listening to Alan Jackson’s 1994 cd Who I Am. That was not the first Alan Jackson cd I bought — that honor goes to his first greatest-hits cd — but it was Who I Am that made me see his greatness. “Livin’ On Love,” “Gone Country,” “Thank God for the Radio,” Job Description,” all those songs made Who I Am one of Jackson’s two best cds — along with 2002’s Drive — and, in my mind at least, cemented his legacy as the Merle Haggard of his generation — a simple singer of simple songs that every man can relate to at some point, all delivered in an unmistakably traditional country package.
Which is why, to say the least, I am disturbed in the extreme by Jackson’s latest offering, “Like Red On A Rose.” I am not sure what to say about it, but that this is not the Alan Jackson that made the two cds referenced above, or for that matter, Don’t Rock the Jukebox, Here In the Real World or the rest of that catalog to date. Which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but by Jackson’s lofty standards, this song, well, just sucks. Sucks molasses through a coffee stirrer in January. I had heard that Alison Krauss was producing this next cd, and I really like Krauss as a singer, so, to say the least, I was expecting much, much better than this. I had heard Alan had an interest in bluegrass, and I was expecting to hear something a little more in that vein. Perhaps we’ll hear some of that, perhaps this cd will just blow the doors off anything he’s done before, who the hell knows, but at this point I am not holding my breath. If this lead single is any indication, Jackson’s next cd is going to be his equivalent of New Coke, and it deserves to fail just as spectacularly. I recall Natalie Maines saying not so long ago about the country fans the Dixie Chicks once catered to, “I’d rather have a smaller following of really cool people who get it…who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don’t want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do.”
I suppose perhaps that last sentence is true to an extent, and I’ll put my varied tastes up against anyone’s, but once you’ve established yourself as an artist with a certain sound — as both the Chicks and Jackson did — people are going to come to expect certain things from you, and if you do anything else, there are those who might come to see it as compromising what you stand for as an artist. I can’t speak for the Chicks, as I haven’t heard anything from their latest cd and have no plans to pick it up, but I’ll admit that I think Alan’s compromised himself here. I expected better, I really did. I’ve picked up every Jackson cd on the day it’s hit the stores for the last eight years — with the exception of the gospel cd, but the budget’s kinda tight these days — or at least within a couple of days after, but with this new one, I am just going to wait and see. I work hard for my money. I don’t want to spend it on something I don’t like. If I remember right, Keith Stegall has produced every Jackson cd from the start, right up to 2004’s What I Do, and he’s had a stellar track record with Jackson. Alan should have stuck with that. What I Do was a little ballad-heavy for my tastes, probably his most depressing album ever (though I think that opinion may be due to the bad situation I found myself in about the time it came out), the closest thing to a dud that Alan’s had, and not one of Alan’s better sellers, but it was still a solid, traditional country, Alan Jackson album, sure as hell not worth switching producers for. We’ll see what happens, but it’s not sounding good so far.

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