What is amazing to me about Alan Jackson is the fact that he is considered just a country artist. Listening to the phenomenal LIKE RED ON A ROSE, you often wonder if you are really listening to ONLY a country album. If I were to answer that question, I would say no-- Jackson has so much vocal appeal here that he should have no problem crossing genres to appeal to a broader audience than just the country fans that have lauded and followed his throughout his very successful career. Sure, LIKE RED ON A ROSE didn't open with the largest numbers of Jackson's career and also there is the possibility that where "quantity" is concerned it may not end up selling as much as his older, more "classic" albums, but in my opinion, LIKE RED ON A ROSE just may very well be my favorite country album of 2006 and also it just maybe one of my favorite albums of the entire year.
From the get go, the first track, you can tell that Jackson isn't taking the audience on the standard ride. One needn't even necessarily listen to know that this album, produced by Bluegrass standout Alison Krauss, is going to feature a different timbre, a different feel, and have a different appeal. Opening track "Anywhere on Earth" confirms this theory as a simplistic arrangement with prominent piano lines and subtle, reserved vocals from Jackson take over. Upon first listen, you think that Jackson is being too soft or selling out, but truth be told, the performance chills beyond its obvious simplicity.
"Good Imitation Of The Blues" yet takes a different approach than "Anywhere On Earth". Here, electric piano (in country music mind you!) is employed, specifically yielding a clavinet sound. Coupled with that soulful, "bluesy" sound is then a fiddle and an electric guitar. Just the arrangement/production here make for an interesting stirring listen, minus Jackson himself. Despite the instrumentation, the track remains light, but yields enough soul for the most soulful listener. Is it brilliance defined? I think so!
As with most title tracks, "Like Red On A Rose" isn't the biggest standout of the album, yet it is much better than a majority of title-tracks. Here, there is again a nice lazy feel, this time in a six-feel, with background vocals supporting Jackson's lead in select spots. Not my favorite, but still first-rate at minimum. "Nobody Said It Would Be Easy" is another strong, consistent track, making for 4 straight strong tracks in a row.
"Don't Change On Me" is definitely one of my favorites on this exceptional album. While this track does obviously have a country appeal, there is a certain soul here, moreso than on Jackson simplistic PRECIOUS MEMORIES album. While that affair was traditional Gospel, there is a more inherent soulfulness here as Jackson croons over lovely organ and piano work. After the electric feel on "Don't Change Me", Jackson returns to more earthy roots with the acoustic-based "Firefly Song", which again features top-rate songwriting if nothing else.
"Wait A Minute" is my "other" favorite, featuring lovely piano, sparse guitar, rhythm, and the most tasteful organ performance of the year. The laziness of this track is the desired sound and it makes for a stunning performance. Jackson's phrasing here in particular is among the best it is through out this entire "tour de force". After "Wait A Minute", Jackson again doesn't let down with the great "Had It Not Been You" and "Woman's Love". From there, there is the first slightly pronounced decline in the quality, but it is so subtle that proceeding tracks are all above average.
With that said, LIKE RED ON A ROSE is my favorite country album of 2006. It trumps or competes head to head with the best of country in 2006 which includes the low profile Dixie Chick and Johnny Cash's exceptional posthumously released AMERICAN V. Touch competition, but Alan Jackson may just have the edge with this exceptional release. 4 stars+.