Alan Jackson Keeps It Solid & Steady in “30 Miles West”

June 5, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  44 Comments

Unlike some aging country music talents, like I don’t know…maybe the one with a “Jr.” suffix in his name combing in Just For Men every other day and calling up Kid Rock’s manager to check for availability for the next video shoot to try and stay relevant, Alan Jackson’s career has been marked by stability and class. Was Alan any more country than Garth Brooks when he first came up in the early 90’s? No, not really. (Well then again, there was that stint where Garth put on eyeliner and changed his first name to Chris.) But as Nashville’s Music Row has steadily moved towards pop and the awful counter balance of “new Outlaw” laundry list songs, Alan has remained on the accessible, radio-friendly side of traditional, honky-tonk country without chasing the trends.

I’d hate to be the record label representative walking into the studio saying, “Hey Alan, we’ve got this brand new song about ice cold beer and pickup trucks we’d like for you to consider. Or how about this country rap opportunity with Colt Ford?” Because let’s face it, Alan Jackson’s mustache could kick all of our asses with one hand ,while restraining Chuck Norris’s mustache in a panty hold with the other. You may not count yourself an Alan Jackson fan, but it’s hard to call Alan Jackson anything else but country. If country music is the audio equivalent of wrestling, Alan Jackson is the good guy you can’t help rooting for.

And if 90% of the stuff they play on country radio these days is crap, then Alan represents the 10%. He’s the one respite when the Mrs. or kiddos flip over to 98.1 you don’t want to reach for a 9mm and point it at either your audio interface or your own pie hole. And unlike George Strait, Alan has the skins on the wall of writing a lot of his own material. He also has accomplished many memorable achievements for real country fans, like his song “Midnight in Montgomery,” standing up for George Jones and the song “Choices” at the CMA’s in 1999, and the duet with the aforementioned Strait on the song “Murder on Music Row.”

Yet Jackson lacks the umpf that the true hard country, deep traditionalists, or neo-traditionalists are looking for, and is still too corn pone or mainstream country for the NPR or Americana roots crowds to cross over to. I thought the timing was really good for Alan to come out with this album and really make some sort of statement, to be bold, kind of like what Marty Stuart is doing these days. But we can’t be surprised what we got was the same steady hand, the same solid songs and performances that have marked his 20+ year career that benefit from the balance between being traditional and accessible.

I don’t hear any of the mega-hits or even moderate hits that marked Alan’s early career here, but I’m not sure that is what Alan is after any more. The first three songs ” Gonna Come Back as a Country Song,” “You Go Your Way,” and the self-penned “Everything but the Wings” employ country wit in the classic way that makes us smile. The anthemic 7 1/2-minute “Dixie Highway” co-starring Zac Brown is the fun portion of the album that by the end you want to keep going.

The song that really struck me was “Her Life’s A Song.” It’s an A&R person’s dream in this age where middle-aged women driving the litter back and forth make up country’s most lucrative listener. You would think it was concocted by a team of pro songwriters in a Music Row cubicle farm, but Jackson came up with this one all by himself. As commercial as it comes across on the surface, Jackson shows his wit and wisdom through a different avenue–understanding appeal–and does the job any songwriter yearns for by creating a character we all can believe, see, and relate to.

No land speed records are broken with 30 Miles West, nor are any attempted. It is safe, steady, and solid. It will keep all the hardcore Jackson fans fat and sassy, and hopefully flirt with some radio play to offer intelligent music ears that one refreshing moment in a 40-minute radio segment where they can smile and know not all hope is lost.

1 1/2 of 2 guns up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from 30 Miles West

44 Comments to “Alan Jackson Keeps It Solid & Steady in “30 Miles West””

  • I think my favorites here are “Gonna Come Back as A Country Song” and “Dixie Highway”. I’ve been listening to that one many times since the AOL Stream went up. Dixie Highway is definitely the reason to buy this album.

  • Nice. Alan Jackson somehow continues to be “uncool” with younger, underground country fans. But as you said above, he’s as solid country as anybody out there. Just a little more accessible.

  • Now, you’re talkin sangin.
    Love me some Alan all the time.

  • I think AJax here and Strait’s “Here for a Good Time” album are both rock solid and they just toy with the current acts out there although they don’t get played on radio much, if you listen to either album vs. anything in the past 2years from mainstream, they crush it. The quality is unmatched.

    I think pop country has actually died. I think after seeing the ACM’s it is clear that it is metro sexual country and a fashion show. The music is amature hour at best, even if it is a talented Brad Paisley cutting up the guitar. His songs are gimmicks.

    Hunter Hayes is country’s answer for Beiber, but only in the sense of age range they are going for and fashion. Neither Hayes or Beiber shake the landscape with actual song writing/singing ability.

    Even the “rap/country” is metro sexual. It is about $300 jeans and $100 shirts trying to look like an outlaw, but your nails and hair are done. Brantley Gilbert and Eric Church look like the biggest tool boxes I’ve ever seen and I would say that to either of their faces. So long as Gilbert doesn’t use his spiked suit coat to fight in.

    And when the first question to a male artist at an award show is “what are you wearing?” and he actaully has an answer?!?!?! That wasn’t even happening in the hey day of pop country.

    Luke Bryant is clearly bi if not full on homosexual waiting to come out. And don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it in discriminatory way. I am saying that is what we have here. Metro-sexual, fashionista country. After all country has always been about bling….rhinestones, jewels, boots, big buckles. But now, the music means nothing. It is all image. They are out of songs, out of ideas, out of everything but going after image and why not tap into an untapped market for country… metro/homosexual crowd. Even Pop country was about music, albeit happy, bubble gum songs, but it was music.

    Stuff today, right now. The artists winning the awards. ZERO to do with music.

    • “I think pop country has actually died”. That is a really good point. It really has come to that – Nashville is so far down the hip-hop, boy-band, it-girl toilet that older pop country ends up seemingly relatively (I stress the word ‘relatively’) genuine.

      • i would just like to remind everyone to tune into the CMAs tomorrow for what’s sure to be impossibly worse than last year’s award show. might need more than a few beers to wash this one down…it’s gonna be a shitshow

      • If you listen to artists like Sammy Kershaw or Aaron Tippin or even Travis Tritt you could probably say they were pop country but DAMN would I be happy to hear them on the radio again.

  • This one disappointed me, but I guess I should’ve known better. I was hoping he was finally gonna look around at what’s going on and revert back to early 90’s Chattahoochee/Chasing That Neon Rainbow Alan Jackson that I grew up with and give all the Brantley Gilbert types the musical finger. He’s gotta be getting tired of them. I guess he’s seen them come and go before, though. Maybe next time…

    • I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, but then again I would count myself as some huge Alan Jackson fan. But I was frustrated that he didn’t take a deeper stand. I think Alan is one of the very few artists left that could either come out with an album or a statement that would stand up to some of the bad trends plaguing Music Row right now, and that it it could have more potency than it will coming from Marty Stuart or Dale Watson for example. And he also wouldn’t come across as a hypocrite like many other artists would. And the window is closing for him, and closing on country music. Let’s face it, in a few years he’s probably going to be considered a “legacy” artist and won’t be able to create the same attention he can now. I might be wrong on that assessment, but the timing seemed perfect right here, right now.

      • Exactly. I hadn’t listened to any of the previews, but I saw the title and the album cover and thought finally, he’s gonna put out a straight country album to contrast with all this noise. Like you said, there are few other artists out there who could pull it off and turn the tide. But I think Alan Jackson could’ve done it 100%. Missed opportunity for sure.

      • Isn’t there something to be said that guys like AJax and Strait don’t take that big stand and make a lot of noise about current state of country? I think the statement is made with the lack of acknowledgment and bending to the current trends.

        They just do what they have done for 20+ years, countless #1’s and let the trends come and go. That is their stand. Not to bark about the negative state of country, but just make another country album and let the fluff go by.

        These are guys that know the business in and out. Maybe the statement from guys like AJax and Strait and Marty Stuart, etc… is
        “Alright, time to make another album that I want to make. Can you do that Brantley or Aldean? An album exactly how you want to make it, when you want to make it? With who you want to make it? And I don’t need to change my look every other album. Hey look, my jeans have had holes since 1990. And I wear a duster, not a fucking childs halloween costume.”

      • This won’t be one of my favorite Alan Jackson cds. I’m very disappointed with it. I had said in an earlier post that I liked it. but I’ve had more time to listen to it. He is capable of more solid traditional music. Like Strait he has softened his sound.

        • Ps if you want to post on his message board it will cost you 20 bucks for membership in his fan club. Why charge people to be your fan?

          • That’s standard operating procedure these days for an act of his size to have these “fan clubs.” For hardcore fans, it’s actually a deal because they get deep discounts and first buy options on tickets. It’s basically a marketing scheme.

          • Alan use to have a free fan club there were no perks with it. but you could post at his message board. I can see the hard core fans (I use to be one) and shelled out the money to join till I got burned out on his music. I guess I’ve gotten so use to listening to the independent artists I hunger for more of the same.

  • Well put. Always been an Alan Jackson fan. I think what has turned off most traditionalists has been his cliched lyrics.

    But even if they are corny sometimes, they are still catchy and fun.

    As wrote, better than 90% of what comes out of Nashville.

    • I think what has turned off most traditionalists has been his cliched lyrics.

      I’ll cop to that. It’s why, although I like Alan Jackson, I’m never going to be as big a fan as, say, the Pistolero down there (and don’t let him fool you, he loves Jackson almost as much as he does Strait). It’s one of our ongoing musical arguments, in fact. Cheesy lyrics will just ruin a song for me.

      But we’ll still by the album next payday.

      • *buy (I probably shouldn’t comment when I’m sleepy.)

  • Alan Jackson tends to be a bit sappy for my taste but I can’t argue with your take on this. Trig, one of the main reasons I keep coming back to SCM, and one that has struck me of late, is that you are not a music fascist or elitist. I can come here and be surprised (a positive Alan Jackson review) or get introduced to music I would never hear about if my only sources of information were either mainstream or so cultish that they will only acknowledge artists if they belong to one of three specific record labels. Thank you.

    • Thanks for reading Ben. It has always been a goal of mine to try and broaden people’s musical perspectives and bridge differences to make the most fulfilling musical experience for folks. But many times this runs into resistance in a Facebook world where everyone wants to surround themselves with like-minded folks and feelings. If country music is ever going to be saved or or even some marginal victory achieved it’s going to take pragmatism and open minds.

  • Hey, you used Sturgeon’s Law! Always handy, I say. Saw AJ right after the release of his first album at a small club here in RVA– a very fun show, nice guy. He always seemed to have at least some Honky-tonk after his success. He’s turned out some mawkish crap, but always a few good ones. Nashville being what it is, we’ll take it.

  • “If country music is the audio equivalent of wrestling, Alan Jackson is the good guy you can’t help rooting for.”

    As someone who knows entirely too much about pro wrestling, the best wrestling related person I could come up with for this analogy is Jim Ross.

    • It is hard to root against anyone that comes out to Boomer Sooner.

      • STONE COLD! STONE COLD! STONE COLD! Those were the days….

  • Nice review. I like the album a lot, actually, though I don’t see it ending up in my top 10 of the year. You’re probably right about the timing, and Alan isn’t the most confrontational guy, but I could see him getting bent in a couple of releases and flipping the bird in Nashville’s direction. It’ll probably happen after they drum him off radio, but still, I look forward to the day.

  • Alan’s no more country than Garth? I always thought the “class of ’89” stuff was solid country but I guess that was after the era of Eddie Rabbit and Barbara Mandrell, “countrypolitan” or whatever. Alan Jackson is a cold glass of milk, can’t go wrong with that. Maybe you could save the text of this review. Leave the titles blank and you can madlib the next one.

  • In the back of my mind whenever I read a review I’m always thinking but can they sing? Do they have a voice I want to listen to? I’m more about the quality of the music and the voice. Alan Jackson could sing the scales and I’d want to listen. Just like if Hank yodeled for 2 hours straight, I’d be there listening because I like the sound. But, that’s just me, I’m old school music. Steel guitars, fiddles and some great picking with a little harmonizing and I’m in. But, pleeease don’t let Reba sing Amazing Grace, I don’t have ALL day!

  • I’ve always respected Alan Jackson. He was one of the first country artists I heard on the radio that I liked.

    One thing that holds back the Alan Jackson and George Straits of the world is their live shows. I’ve seen both. They are great performers, no doubt, but they have suffered as tastes have shifted to the arena rock atmosphere. Unfortunately, people would rather see fake rockstars with pyrotechnics and 5 superfluous guitar players than good performers playing to a theater in the round. Tickets sales drive music instead of the other way around.

    Speaking of Bocephus, what are we thinking about this new album coming out next month? I know some people are excited about it, but the lead single “That Ain’t Good” is pretty bad. Plus, there is yet another version of “Keep the Change” and some god awful song titles like “We Don’t Apologize for America” and “Stock Market Blues.” At this point I’m hoping that it’s just another run-of-the-mill Bocephus record with 90% garbage, 10% genius. I’m worried that it’s going to be even worse than that.

    • I’ve heard one other single from it. “I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams” with Brad Paisley. It’s very slick, but still pretty country. Sounds like a hit. But yeah, the other two songs from the new album are crap.

    • I’ve only seen one person very excited about the new Jr. album with a myopic view that everyone else is with him. I’m not expecting much, but I’ll try and give it an honest listen like everything else.

  • “And unlike George Strait, Alan has the skins on the wall of writing a lot of his own material.”

    I agree with most of what you write, Trig, and I am glad to see that you don’t shun good music just because it’s mainstream. That said, the above quote rubbed me the wrong way. George Strait may not have written a lot of his own material, but even so I think there’s a lot to be said for a good song interpreter, which Strait arguably is. And even though Jackson has written a lot of his own songs, some of his best, most memorable songs were written by others, i.e., Bob McDill’s “Gone Country.” I remember kvetching about Shania Twain back in the late ’90s and one of the most frequent defenses of her that everyone put up was — wait for it — that she wrote her own songs. And my thought was, “Well, so? They’re still crap.”

    • That statement wasn’t meant to be a dig on George Strait at all, though I can understand how it would be taken that way. The topic of whether songwriting should lead to as much street cred as it does is probably another good topic. I think some people give songwriting too much credit, and song strength not enough. Willie only wrote half of “Red Headed Stranger” and people will tell you it’s the greatest of all time. Country has a long-standing tradition of performing or interpreting other people’s songs, and I agree, there’s a lot of talent in that as well. I guess the difference is George can’t be described as a songwriter at all. And all songwriters write bad ones. Bob Dylan may be one of the best songwriters of all time, and he’s had a truckload of very bad misses.

      That statement was more of a talking point than a comparison.

      • Indeed. If a singer makes a song his/her own, then it shouldn’t matter. I used to be more the opposite: if a singer didn’t write at all, then he/she wasn’t legit, but interpretation takes great talent. That being said, George is stepping up his game in the songwriting dept. Took him long enough, but “Here For a Good Time” has seven Strait co-writes on it, out of eleven tunes. Wonder how many more albums worth of writing it’ll take for his name to be mentioned with the word “songwriter” in the same breath.

        • George has his son, Bubba, writing on a lot of these songs too. I am shocked and didn’t know George still had in him to cut songs like “Drinkin Man” and “Poison” those are dark man (with now “modern language” used). But done in that Strait style. Lounge country I call it. He is Sinatra.

          Geroge is in a class/world of his own. He ducks in and out of Nashville never quite becoming one of them and getting caught up in the changing trends. He is King of Texas eventhough his success comes through Nashville.
          He has trusted writers he works with, but gives shots to unknowns as well.
          He’s the guy that when everyone is having a discussion about the best artist in the last 30 years, names get tossed around and then someone says “oh yea, I forgot, Striat.” and everyone else says “yea, he’s the top…but who’s #2?” and the debate goes on.

          I mean for as cheesy as “Pure Country” is, George was the best to play it. He didn’t over act it. He was just George and it is funny. I mean the line in the movie when he is in the fight out front of the ranch…guy says to him “you’re lookin’ for an ass whoopin boy.” and Strait’s character says “absolutely” and then kicks the guys ass. That George… cool as a cucumber and comes out on top.

          • “I am shocked and didn’t know George still had in him to cut songs like “Drinkin Man” and “Poison” those are dark man (with now “modern language” used).”

            I meant “NO modern language” used. Kind of playing off the other blog about hard topics/lyrics and the use of hard language. Strait doesn’t use any hard language to seen these topics. Never has and he has some of the best songs about hard topics.

    • Anyone who wants to be consistently good is gonna have to write their own music or they will be stuck with a slough of duds when the trends change… Plus, any legitmate artist should have something to say for themselves at some point. Strait is better than most but he has plenty of sappy/sorry-assed shit in his recorded history. I know country music has a long history of songwriters creating/carrying stars but when the day comes that the performers are writing the lions’s share of their songs country music will be a much better product. Let’s not forget that this practice of having a team of writers is another thing that radio country has in common with pop radio. I know that all of the old legends had songwriters but much of the best material was written by the artists themselves and guys like Kristofferson and Shaver should have had more hits on their own but they didn’t have the “machine” in their corner.

  • Point taken,Trig, that’s just always been one of my sore points and not only with George Strait. As I recall, George Jones also recorded quite a few from other writers as well and I could probably put more if I sat here and Googled all night. ;-) I just think the song interpreters get unfairly shrugged off sometimes. Good artists know their limitations, and Strait said years ago that he was brought so many great songs by outside writers that it was hard for him to get motivated to write songs. Like Chris said, though, he stepped up with the pen with his latest album and come up with some pretty solid songs to boot, among them “Drinkin’ Man,” “Shame On Me,” and “House Across the Bay.” But his interpretations of Delbert McClinton’s “Lone Star Blues” and Jesse Winchester’s “A Showman’s Life” took that particular album to a whole new level as a couple of the finest things he’s ever recorded.

    Regarding the mention of 98.1: is that KVET? From the way folks talked that was a pretty decent radio station once upon a time. I don’t even bother with country radio here in San Antonio other than KKYX. Modern country is by and large the reason I’ve turned into a metalhead in the last couple of years, though, and KZEP and KTKX are great for that…

    • 98.1 is just my stock pop country radio station number. I believe it’s one of the big pop country stations in Nashville too.

      • I believe you’re right on that Trig. It’s also the station 3 mention’s in his song ‘Not Everybody Likes Us’.
        “i think i’d rather eat the barrel of a double barrel loaded shotgun, than to hear that shit they call pop country music on 98.1″

  • My copy came today. I like it. Alan still has that smooth voice.

  • I loved this album from start to finish!
    Great song writing!
    Almost every song has a great hook!
    Jackson delivers the songs with confidence and he is backed up by some tasty country pickers!

  • This is, by far, my favorite album so far this year. I LOVE it from start to finish and it’s on constant rotation at my house. Alan’s still got it. Yeah…

  • Alan Jackson is “pop country” and alot of times I like pop country….this kind of pop country. Its still country its just not die hard tradionalist and I have zero problems with this and really enjoy it. If this is what still passed for pop country and what played on top 40 country radio I would tune in. Alan Jackson is the singer who lead me down the road of musical taste maturity and to everything in country music that is great. When I realized that after hearing all the top 40 songs more than once on the radio Alan was one of the only singers I could stand so every time he releases something it holds a special place in my heart.

    • “Alan Jackson is pop country”

      That’s so true because sometimes during the 90’s, when he was very popular he had several hits of his played on pop stations unlike today now but here’s a run down of what was played on pop radio by him

      Some Alan Jackson songs I can recall being Played on Pop radio during the 1990’s

      Chattahoochee (Extended Mix)
      Summertime Blues
      Tall, Tall, Trees
      Little Bitty
      Who’s Cheatin’ Who
      Pop a Top
      It must Be love

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