Alan Jackson is consistent. Over the years, each new album cranks up like the truck you’ve had forever and trust to get you through it all. After parting ways with longtime label Arista Nashville in early 2011 (loooong time label, as in AJ was actually their first artist signed in 1989), Alan issues his debut release under his own Alan’s Country Records in partnership with EMI Records Nashville. Thirty Miles West, in stores on June 5, is classic Alan Jackson, full of his trademark neo-traditional sound, contemporary production and laid-back delivery.
“Gonna Come Back As A Country Song,” the album’s first track, breaks open with train whistle fiddle before the rhythm section kicks in with a bouncing honky tonk groove. Alan doesn’t force things vocally. Though his familiar drawl is vibrant, he sings for one measure and then lets the track breathe for the next. He’s a seasoned vet, and when he sings, It’d be heaven to me / Watching neon lights for eternity, the 53-year-old singer is 100% in his element, while his band is 100% in the pocket.
One of the most striking parts of Thirty Miles West is the relationship between Alan and the musical accompaniment that supports him. On “Everything But the Wings,” an acoustic ballad reminiscent of 2003’s “Remember When,” Alan’s voice floats above the tender notes, taking time to reflect before delivering each new poetic line dedicated to the angel in his life. “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore” is a stark ballad wherein Alan’s willing to be the scapegoat at the end of a relationship. When you and our friends talk, make it all my fault, he sings with a meandering melody that draws its depth from his impeccable timing.
The album features a mixture of slow-burning honky tonks and more upbeat numbers that often draw a smile. “Her Life’s A Song” is a happy-go-lucky tale about a girl living life through her iPod playlist – complete with those joyous moments when nothing but a little air guitar will do. The album’s drinking song, “Long Way To Go,” is a lighthearted, twang-filled ‘drink-her-off-my-mind’ that recalls Alan’s hit “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” with Jimmy Buffet. I got a bug in my margarita, he sings with a smile, Seems bad luck won’t leave me alone.
Alan wrote five of the album’s 13 songs himself, including the epic “Dixie Highway” featuring fellow Georgian Zac Brown. The tune, which actually checks in at nearly seven-and-a-half minutes, is a raucous road song that is part travelogue, part honky tonk barnburner and part Southern Rock ecstasy via the Allman Bros. Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Both Alan and Zac sing with an infectious energy, building off each other, while every chorus is followed with some sort of solo that includes guitars, piano and banjo all taking turns.
Alan also penned the project’s heaviest song thematically, “When I Saw You Leaving.” Closing out the record, the song works through the strong emotions tied to a loved one’s illness. (Though Alan doesn’t explicitly state which one, he’s said in interviews that the song is about his wife Denise’s battle with cancer, which thankfully, is in remission.) It’s an introspective finish, but provides additional depth and an emotional sunset after a collection that featured several easygoing songs like “Nothin’ Fancy” and the humorous “Look Her In The Eye and Lie.” On Thirty Miles West, Alan comes through with a thoughtful collection that fans will love, due to the familiar voice of a longtime friend.
Key Tracks – “Dixie Highway,” “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore,” “Gonna Come Back As A Country Song,” “Everything But the Wings”