Alan Jackson is a bona fide country legend, and a new release from the Georgia native is always a hotly anticipated event. When he then announces it’ll be ‘countrier than ever’ you know it’ll contain more fiddle and pedal steel than a bluegrass festival. What we get is a bumper 21-song package, Where Have You Gone, packed full of his warm southern voice singing songs about mama, drinking, country music and country living.
We open with Where Have You Gone, a solemn lament about the current state of the industry and a real love-letter to traditional country music. “Soft steel guitar oh how I’ve missed you…..sweet country music, please come back home”. It’s a beautiful song which sets the tone for the album. He revisits this theme later on the album with Back, a song he came up with as a joke after hearing Justin Timberlake’s Bringing Sexy Back, telling his daughters he’s bringing country back. The result is a rollicking fiddle/telecaster romp in the same vein as Good Time from his 2008 album of the same name.
A Man Who Never Cries, inspired by a letter he received from singer Caylee Hammock’s father is a beautiful mid-tempo song about counting your blessings, a theme that also forms the basis of The Older I Get and Things That Matter.
In The Boot he dishes out some salient advice to a guy in a bar who’s had an argument with his girl, telling him – “put your foot in the boot, put the boot in the truck, put the truck in the road, and go home to her” – advice coming from a man who’s clearly been there and regretted not doing it.
The centrepiece of the album are the two most personal songs he’s written. You’ll Always Be My Baby is a song he wrote for his daughters weddings, and one I’m sure that I’m sure will become a staple for future father/daughter dances. Where Her Heart Has Always Been starts with a bible reading by his mother much like Drake White did with his grandad across his Spark album, and was written for her funeral. Both songs are absolute country gold, and guaranteed to reduce listeners to blubbering messes.
The rest of the album is filled out with drinking songs (from uplifting boot-scooters (Beer:10),mid-tempo honky-tonk dancehall numbers (Wishful Drinking’) and sad drown-your-sorrow types (Way Down In My Whiskey, I Was Tequila), depending on your mood), and just sublime country music.
Where The Cottonwood Grows is one of the stand-outs on the album, which sees Alan looking back to his younger days and his early romantic trysts with his wife. Besides, I’m a sucker for any song featuring that old country staple, the whippoorwill. Other notable tracks are I Do which is another song he wrote for his daughters weddings and That’s The Way Love Goes – a tribute to Merle Haggard.
A 21 song album is a daunting proposition for most people, but as we’re in Alan Jacksons hands we needn’t have worried. Where Have You Gone is like a warm duvet. Settle down, grab a whiskey and let yourself drift away to Georgia for the night.