Alan Jackson The Very Best Of... Review

Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Whichever way you look at it this is an excellent retrospective of Jackson's fifteen...

Sue Keogh 2002

If it doesn't seem like five minutes since Alan Jackson last released a greatest hits compilation, you'd not be far wrong: Greatest Hits, Volume Two came out in 2003. If you have the first volume too, there will be little point in buying this new collection because you will already have every single song on it. He hasn't even been cheeky and included any new and exclusive treats to encourage old fans to buy it (I'd wager that country version of Outkast's ''Hey Ya!'' he's been doing live recently would be worth a listen).

So the guess is that it's aimed at the crossover market, the people who suddenly fell for Jackson after being touched by his heartfelt 9/11 response ''Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)'' and want some consistent, upbeat country to put on at the barbecue.

Whichever way you look at it this is an excellent retrospective of Jackson's fifteen year career, during which he's sold 40 million records, enjoyed thirty number one singles, won over eighty major industry awards and been a key factor in country music's early 1990's return to form becoming a long-term phenomenon.

As if to make a point that he is a true blue country singer, the collection kicks off the ''Gone Country'', Jackson's 1992 sideswipe at the wannabees who at the time were flocking to Nashville trying to make a fast buck. Seven years later he joined George Strait to attack commercialised country radio for destroying traditional music, with their duet ''Murder On Music Row''. This 2000 CMA Vocal Event of the Year winner is notable by its absence here; after dominating country radio with ''Where Were You'' for such an extended period perhaps Jackson feels uncomfortable repeating his criticism?

It's hard to over-emphasise the power of this song, which stopped the 2001 CMA Awards show in its tracks and saw our sandy-moustached hero taking home every trophy possible the following year. It seemed to speak to every American during that post-911 period of nationwide emotional confusion, from the working man stuck on the interstate, far from his wife and children, to those who 'burst out with pride for the red, white and blue/ and the heroes who died just doing what they do'.

By describing himself here as: 'Just singer of simple songs/ I'm not a real political man', Jackson has acutely described his appeal. A mild-mannered Southern gentleman who does little on stage except smile occasionally and strum his favourite battered old acoustic guitar, the crowds go just as crazy as when faced with the fireworks and dynamic stage antics of Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks or Kenny Chesney.

The reason for this is that he writes simply great honky tonk and places his typical fan in the starring role. You can see evidence of this throughout this record; the ode to the Little Man, the guys who weld themselves to their bar stools to avoid domestic problems (''Pop A Top'') and who, if ''Chattahoochee'' is anything to go by, sure know how to show a gal a good time: 'So I settled for a burger and a grape sno-cone/ I dropped her off early but I didn't go home...'

It's a winning formula; let's just hope this compilation is his way of playing for time while he's working on the new stuff.

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