Alan Jackson 101: A Field Guide To Hard Country Heaven

Alan Jackson
Courtesy CMA
– Alan Jackson
circa 1997

Alan Jackson may be this era’s definitive juke joint traditionalist. Shuffles, waltzes, hard honky tonk and classic ballads – he is equal parts Texas, Cajun, Georgia and countrypolitan. But mostly, he’s the good time voice of the working people who believe in God, cold beer and falling in love for a lifetime. Humor as much as heartache drives this singular songwriter/artist. 

A LOT ABOUT LIVIN’ (& A LITTLE ‘BOUT LOVE) (1992): Six million Alan Jackson fans can’t be wrong. Bookended by the rollicking innocence of “Chattahoochee” and a Tele- caster-forward cover of “Mercury Blues,” Jackson’s straight-cut country delved into growing up in rural small towns, a master class in modern hardcore traditionalism.
PRECIOUS MEMORIES (2006): Recorded for his mother, this stately 15-song sampler of the Baptist Hymnal embraces Southern gospel classics with gentle reverence, setting the tone for Sunday morning church wherever you are from on an album culled from the songs Jackson sang growing up. 
WHO I AM (1994): Jackson skewered Los Angeles’ country-come-lately rock exodus with Bob McDill’s low-slung “Gone Country,” winning every award imaginable. Still the industrial fiddle ’n’ Tele-dripping hope of “Living On Love,” the lusty hilarity of the barn-burning “I Don’t Even Know Your Name” and a churchy piano rendition of Rodney Crowell’s “Song for the Life” round out this declaration of an artist solidifying into a standard-setter.
DRIVE (2002): “Drive (for Daddy Gene),” the bluegrass-tinged multi-generational homage to his father teaching him to drive, opens Jackson’s over-six-million seller. “Where Were You” is the obvious jewel, but there’s “Designated Drinker,” a wry duet with George Strait, the silky working man’s sweet relief of “Bring On The Night” and a classic ne’er do well with a backbeat good ole boy explanation, “Work In Progress.”
HERE IN THE REAL WORLD (1990): The one that got it started. With the forlorn admission that “the one thing I’ve learned from you is/ the boy don’t always get the girl here in the real world” that basted the title track with old school Wurlitzer heartache, Jackson emerged as a factor. The Haggardesque emptiness of “Wanted” and pledge of always “I’d Love You All Over Again” solidified his romantic bona fides, while “Chasing That Neon Rainbow” became the anthem for kids dreaming of country stardom.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1999): The man who’d had hits with “Summertime Blues,” “Tall, Tall Trees,” “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” and “Pop A Top” gathers vintage George Jones, Charlie Pride, John Anderson, Merle Haggard, Gene Watson and more for a steel-drenched, fiddle-threaded covers record that goes old old school.
THIRTY MILES WEST (2012): Moving to Universal, Jackson proved he could still bore into the heart of country with the banjo ’n’ redneck guitar flash of “Dixie Highway” with Zac Brown, the love gone cold “She Don’t Get High,” the pragmatic humor/dignity saving “Look Her In The Eye and Lie” and the fiddle-sawed-swagger “I’ll Come Back As A Country Song.” But the stark “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Any More” packs the same larger than life Gary Cooper/John Wayne strong, silent stoicism as High Mileage’s half-spoken/half-sung “I’ll Go On Loving You.” Damn.
HONKY TONK CHRISTMAS (1993): Like Emmylou Harris’ Light of the Stable, this is unabashed country Christmas music. Whether celebrating at home, down at the local bar or somewhere on the highway, Honky Tonk Christmas mixes traditional songs, originals and duets with the late Keith Whitley, the crystal-voiced Alison Krauss, and The Chipmunks. 
DON’T ROCK THE JUKEBOX (1991): Jackson’s title track made good on a breakout country debut album with a first single from the follow-up that boasted a backbeat slapping the track and the bass bouncing the shuffle like a rubber ball. Sneaky barroom piano and a chorus that protested, “My heart ain’t ready for the Rolling Stones,” he infused heartbreak with humor and brio. Add the haunted Hank Williams’ homage “Midnight In Montgomery,” the George Jones cameo on “Playin’ Possum” and the No. 1s “Love’s Got A Hold On You,” “Dallas” and “Some Day,” and a superstar was minted.