Alan Jackson

Like Red on a Rose (Arista)

Given his eternal front-pew presence in the Mother Church of True Country Music, Alan Jackson's delivery of an album that evokes such adjectives as "crossover" and even "progressive" might seem like heresy. Yet it's his fealty to the genuine country spirit, ironically, that makes Like Red on a Rose such a bouquet for country fans and even open-eared listeners who may not care much for country. Some may think it's the twanging guitar, pedal steel and fiddles that characterize country, but at its core (and best), it's a singer's art, and Jackson is one of its latter-day masters. The somewhat surprising choice of producer Alison Krauss fashions a smart and adult countrypolitan sound that spans from quality roots to classy pop, touching on blues ("Good Imitation of the Blues"), gospel ("Don't Change on Me") and even nods to Stephen Foster ("Where Do I Go From Here [A Trucker's Song]"), all of which Jackson handily sings with subtle authority and deft emotionality. With 15 songs one could even call literate—in contrast to much from the Music City songwriting factory—this set is a mature and lovely flowering for Jackson that transcends genre to become fine American popular music.

 
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