Album review: Alan Jackson's 'Thirty Miles West'
The difference between Alan Jackson and so many other contemporary country singers is crystallized in “Long Way to Go,” one of the half dozen songs he wrote for his new album "Thirty Miles West" — the first for his new Alan Country Records label after two decades with Arista.
It starts out as the standard-issue country number in which the protagonist decides to run away and drown his heartache in saltwater, sand and alcohol. But Jackson’s smart enough to know that escapism never works for long, and handles it with wry humor: “I got a bug in my margarita/Seems bad luck won’t leave me alone.”
His writing is rarely florid, his singing never needlessly showy; instead, the Newnan, Ga., singer and songwriter has smartly adapted the Randolph Scott man-of-few-words movie-cowboy persona to country music, also evident in his choice of Adam Wright and Jay Knowles’ plain-spoken love song “Nothin’ Fancy.”
There’s nothing drastically different here than what Jackson’s been doing quite well since he first entered the country charts in 1989. Two dozen No. 1 hits later — most from his own pen — he sticks with what works, but never sounds as if he’s simply exploiting a formula.
That’s most bracingly evident in the closing track, “When I Saw You Leaving (for Nisey),” a song he wrote after his wife, Denise, was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. Although she’s cancer free now, which leads to the song’s happy ending, the sobering realization of the fragility of life that comes with such news isn’t diminished in the least.
“Thirty Miles West”
Three stars out of four
— Randy Lewis