Alan JacksonThe Bluegrass Album(ACR/EMI Records)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Anyone who’s listened to Alan Jackson sing about everything from lifelong love to bologna sandwiches knows that he believes in what he writes about. That’s what makes The Bluegrass Album a winner; he certainly didn’t have to record an album like this, he did it because he wanted to do it, and he sings the eight songs on this album like he’s lived them. And he understands the bluegrass genre well enough to have written these songs with chord progressions and melodies that fit the bluegrass mold, even though they could have appeared on one of his country albums as well.
The title and cover make it clear what this is: Alan Jackson’s bluegrass album. It’s not that significant that a country star of the ‘80s and beyond is taking a try at the style (look at the various stylistic trips Vince Gill has been on, for example). The surprise is that a star who is still having great commercial success (#1 country hit singles as recently as 2008, plus some Top 20 and Top 10 singles since) would alternate commercial country projects with more humble genre exercises – traditional gospel albums (two Precious Memories volumes, in 2006 and 2013), a sophisticated, jazz-ish collection of love songs (2006’s Like Red on a Rose) and this straight ahead take on bluegrass.
Alan Jackson has had quite a run. At 54, he's had nearly a quarter of a century of being a big ticket draw in country music, with 25 number one country hits under his belt and a solid reputation as perhaps the best neo-traditionalist singer and songwriter of his generation -- he's certainly been the most commercially successful. Times change, though, and contemporary country stations, in love with younger stars and a hybrid country/rock/pop sound, don't play Jackson much these days, if at all.
Amiable country singer and songwriter Alan Jackson has been talking for ages about his wish to make a straight bluegrass album. That's the reason he signed on for Alison Krauss to produce his 2006 album, "Like Red on a Rose," one of his strongest collections, but one that veered far afield from traditional bluegrass. Not this time — there's nothing but earthy, lonesome music-making on Jackson's "The Bluegrass Album." It boasts all the requisite fiddle, mandolin, banjo, dobro, acoustic guitar, upright bass and sweet bending harmonies that define bluegrass.