Like Red on a Rose
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The standardbearer for country music tradition, Alan Jackson returns with a deeply personal album produced by bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss. Originally intending to do a bluegrass recording, Krauss, Jackson, and a who's-who of acoustic music instead found themselves crafting a country music fan's dream. Like Red on a Rose features one of country's biggest stars in a gorgeously crafted, sophisticated setting that's nearly an anachronism in today's high-gloss Nashville. With guests Lee Ann Womack, Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Ron Block, and Howard Levy, among others, it's a musicianly album with plenty of mainstream appeal, as witnessed by the fast-rising single, the atmospheric "Like Red on a Rose."
The idea of twang king Alan Jackson pairing up with Alison Krauss for an album of love songs might seem heretical to some, especially if they heard only the first cut, the adult-contemporary ballad "Anywhere on Earth You Are." But producer Krauss, whom Jackson approached to make a traditional bluegrass record, always knew there was a sensuous heart beating beneath his aw-shucks demeanor, one that would fit perfectly with the intimate repertoire, genre-bending musical framework, and virtuoso players she'd always chosen for herself. (Robert Lee Castleman, one of Krauss's favorite writers, weighs in with four tunes, and Ron Block, Jerry Douglas, and Dan Tyminski, Krauss's Union Station cohorts, anchor the band.) Jackson, it turns out, also wanted a chance to reflect on the ups and downs of his long marriage, apart from 1998's daring, spoken-word hit "I'll Go On Loving You," a far lustier admission than anything included here. If there's a downside to this brilliant, if unlikely pairing, it's that Krauss's somber program could benefit from something a tad more libidinous or uptempo. But what is here is so beautifully chosen and performed (with spare, affecting harmony vocals by Lee Ann Womack, Cheryl White, Sidney and Suzanne Cox, and Krauss herself) that it's hard to quibble. Throughout, and especially on the ballad "Wait a Minute" and his own dusted-off "A Woman's Love" (1998), Jackson, who explores his rich, lower register more frequently than in the past, comes across like Don Williams in his prime. He's a middle-aged man taking stock of what and who matters most to him in life, and speaking his heart without artifice. In the title track, a song so bone-marrow deep it might bring you to your knees, Jackson declares, "I love you like all little children love pennies." That line that may sound odd and superficial by itself, but in Jackson's nuanced reading, it takes on a nearly spiritual yearning. This album, like the gospel Precious Memories before it, proves that while Jackson--the most nominated performer in CMA history--may be nearing 50, he's not ready to quit challenging himself as an artist. --Alanna Nash
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1. Based on most of what is called "Country Music" today this album is Country with a capital C. 2. As we all know, Alan can sure sing rockabilly and honky-tonk , but he can take a ballad and sign it like few can except classic singers like Ray Price, George Jones, Charlie Pride , Ralph Stanley and others. Both his choice of ballads and his arrangements are top notch. After his wonderful Gospel cd, this is another gem.
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+.
I listened to it one time through and thought...what the @#&%?!
I put it down a few days and put it back on my CD player. I feel much better about it now than I did a few days ago. It is a departure of sorts for Alan...not what one would expect. However, I believe this album will bring him some critical acclaim from those who normally don't listen to his usually "Gone Country-esque" style. It's pure...it's simple and sometimes understated. But isn't that AJ?