Alan Jackson, "The Bluegrass Album" (ACR/EMI Nashville)
Veteran country star Alan Jackson ranks among the most tradition-based singers of his generation. Most of his influences are on the surface: honky-tonk, swing, blues and songs both romantic and social that draw on details from his personal life.
Jackson's new "The Bluegrass Album," much like his two collections of gospel hymns, brings out another form of American roots music that he loves. With characteristic laid-back charm, Jackson applies his sweet baritone to the hot acoustic picking and soaring harmonies that characterize bluegrass.
What Jackson brings to the table is outstanding songwriting -- an area where contemporary bluegrass can be lacking. The 54-year-old contributes eight original songs, including the standouts "Blacktop" and "Let's Get Back to Me and You," as well as two by his nephew Adam Wright, who co-produced the collection with Jackson's longtime studio collaborator, Keith Stegall.
Jackson tips his hat to bluegrass history by covering Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" and the Dillards' great "There is a Time," and he runs John Anderson's "Wild and Blue" through a mountain gap without losing its soulful strength.
To Jackson's credit, he doesn't aim any of these songs to fit country radio's format. Instead, he concentrates on making a solid string-band album for the ages -- and succeeds.