Alan Jackson, "Thirty Miles West" (ACR/EMI Nashville)
Alan Jackson opens his new album "Thirty Miles West" with a song suggesting that if reincarnation exists, he will return as a country song. No other artist of his generation deserves this destiny more, for no other has better represented the traditions of country music than this Georgia native.
His first album to be distributed by EMI after more than two decades with Arista Records, "Thirty Miles West" accentuates Jackson's best attributes -- an assured yet relaxed baritone; arrangements that accentuate melodies and rely on fiddle, steel guitar, and honky-tonk piano; and lyrics that are homespun and personal, all relaying a philosophy of living simply and with deep affection for family and roots.
A prolific songwriter, Jackson this time selects seven songs written by others -- a wise choice, considering they include "So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore," the best ballad of 2012 so far, and the swinging "Life Keeps Bringin' Me Down."
Still, his songs are what set him apart. Those include the observational "Her Life's a Song," about a young woman passionate about a variety of music, and the touching "When I Saw You Leaving (for Nisey)," about his wife's cancer diagnosis, which ends with the emotions he felt when discovering it had gone into remission.
As usual, Jackson handles both real-life drama and sly humor with laid-back grace -- making "Thirty Miles West" another example of how to keep traditional country music relevant in modern times.
Check this out: Jackson stretches into southern rock, with great results, on his own "Dixie Highway," recorded with the Zac Brown Band. Jackson and Brown trade vocals on the verses, but it's the band's brisk solos that provide the zip to this tribute to a historic highway providing a direct route from Chicago to Miami.