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Alan Jackson, ‘Thirty Miles West’ – Album Review

Thirty Miles West
Alan's Country Records / EMI

There’s a song on Alan Jackson‘s ‘Thirty Miles West’ album that could be the title-track. Actually, ‘Nothin’ Fancy’ could be the title-track for his entire career. This isn’t the best song on the project — one gets lost in the long, sleepy melody — but it’s a message that speaks to why we love this country legend.

On his first album in over two years, Jackson returns to relying on familiar emotions and a voice that God would envy if he were capable of such things. His every-man narratives are sharper than any that dotted ‘Freight Train’ and (with few exceptions) ‘Good Times.’ He sounds like a man just back from vacation: refreshed, confident and full of good stories.

The heart of Jackson’s new album is the woeful ballads. There’s ‘So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore’ (arguably the best of his career) and ‘She Don’t Get High,’ the story of a couple who have lost their sizzle.

I’m not the song that she sings / I can’t give her those wings / Hard as I try I’m not the sky she’s looking for / She don’t get high anymore,” he sings.

‘When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey)’ is a song Jackson wrote while supporting his wife through cancer treatment. It’s as open and honest as ‘Sissy’s Song,’ and if he’s willing release it as a single — no easy task as he’d then have to perform it every night — it’s a sure hit.

Early in the album, ‘Everything But the Wings’ is the first stop-and-listen moment. The nearly five-minute love song holds nothing back in telling a woman how the singer feels. Jackson is something of an introvert, but he’s not shy about exposing his heart and soul on songs like this. He’s completely committed to the emotional country ballad.

The delicious middle of ‘Thirty Miles West’ also offers ‘Dixie Highway,’ an over seven minute-long jam with Zac Brown. The project could use a few more shots of adrenaline to appeal to younger listeners, but no longtime fan of Jackson’s will be disappointed with the songs he’s assembled.

Perhaps the only criticism comes in song order. In two cases, two similar songs are placed back-to-back. ‘Look Her in the Eye and Lie’ is a similar sentiment to ‘So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore’ (albeit one from a new perspective), and ‘Life Keeps Bringin’ Me Down’ is a familiar upgrade to ‘Long Way to Go,’ the track preceding it.

However, when one needs to get to the track list before voicing a serious complaint, it’s a sign that he’s nitpicking. ‘Thirty Miles West’ isn’t an album that’s going to be favored by younger country fans, but those who’ve built a family as Jackson has built his career will be satisfied with his best work in years.

4 Stars

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