Originally published in the July 27, 2015 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Alan Jackson is a self-proclaimed singer of simple songs, and we wouldn’t want it any other way on his new album, Angels and Alcohol.
When an artist is fortunate enough to celebrate 25 successful years in the music business, there could be the temptation to throw their audience a curveball and move in a different direction. But that’s not Alan Jackson. Consistency has always been his strong suit, and with the July 17 release of his 15th studio album, Angels & Alcohol, Alan once again delivers the kind of meat and potatoes, traditional country music that has sold nearly 60 million albums and earned him 35 No. 1 hits, 18 Academy of Country Music Awards, 16 Country Music Association Awards, a pair of Grammys and countless other accolades.
“[During] the whole 25 years, it was about keeping it country and I’ve tried to do that,” Alan says on a sunny Friday afternoon in late June. “I just wanted to make this album and for people to say, ‘That’s what he’s done. He’s kept it country.’ You could probably play this next to my first album and there wouldn’t be a lot of difference in song content or production. My voice was a lot higher back then. My voice has gotten deeper with age, but other than that there probably isn’t much difference and I’m proud of that.”
With a string of chart-topping hits like “Chattahoochee,” “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “Gone Country,” “Drive,” “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Small Town Southern Man,” the Newnan, Georgia, native has a lot to be proud of, but he brushes off compliments with an aw-shucks charm and self-effacing attitude that make the man as endearing as the music.
On Angels & Alcohol, his first album in three years, Alan once again delivers the kind of engaging, heartfelt songs his fans have come to expect. It’s been 25 years since the release of his debut album Here in the Real World. Since then Alan has released 22 albums including two Christmas collections, two gospel albums, three Greatest Hits packages and an acclaimed bluegrass album. So what has he learned that he put to use in recording his latest venture? “It helps once you’ve been doing it for so long,” he notes. “You learn which songs fit better together. It’s me being in the studio making them all unique, but somehow making them fit together, and that’s sometimes the hard thing to do.”
Alan premiered the title track, “Angels & Alcohol,” during a special performance last fall at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the crowd response was so enthusiastic he knew it needed to be the centerpiece of the next album. “I was very surprised that the crowd reacted to it,” he says. “I’ve done it a couple times since then and always gets a good reaction. They were fired up about it that night. I was very excited about that.”
He says the song had been in the works for a bit. “I’ve had that hook laying around for a while,” he says. “I don’t know where I got ‘angels and alcohol.’ At first, I thought it sounded like an album title more than anything. I just had it laying there and finally one day I sat down and tried to write it and it just came out that way. It’s about alcohol abuse and how it affects your whole life and relationships and dealing with your own problems. It’s just hard to do anything when that has an affect on you.”
Alan’s new album is a blend of fun up-tempos like “You Never Know,” an energetic treatise of life’s little surprises and “Jim and Jack and Hank,” an upbeat look at the end of a relationship. There’s also more reflective fare such as the beautiful ballad “When God Paints.”
Alan wrote seven of the album’s 10 songs by himself and the album’s opener, “You can Always Come Home,” was written for his three daughters. “Ali moved out to California last fall and that’s when I wrote it,” he says of his middle daughter leaving home to purse an entertainment career. “It kind of reminded of when I moved to Nashville and didn’t know anybody and I’d go and call my folks at home. My mama and daddy were supportive even though they were worried about me coming up here. My daddy always said, ‘You can always come home. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come home.’ I’ve always remembered that, so that’s when it reminded me of Ali and that’s where that one came from. She thought it was sweet. When I first played it, it was just me and the guitar, a little rough demo.”
This is a big year for Alan in many ways. Not only has he been celebrating his 25th anniversary with a spring tour featuring openers Jon Pardi and Brandy Clark, his career was also the subject of an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and he’s been putting the finishing touches on Angels & Alcohol. But beyond the career fan fare, he and his wife of 35 years, Denise, are about to move into a new season of life and become empty nesters when the youngest of their three daughters, Dani, heads to college this fall.
“Dani just graduated from high school. It’s her senior summer, so we kind of let her dictate what she wants to do,” the proud father says. “When she wants to go somewhere, we’ll do that for her. We’ve already been to the lake some and we’ll go back there. And we’ll go down to Florida some. I’ve got to play a show out in California. It’s just a one off thing, I think we’ll make a little family trip out of that and then I’ve got to go to New York to do some TV [appearances] and I think we’ll make a little family trip out of that. So we’re kind of all over the place, but it will be fun and it will be a good summer.”
Their eldest daughter Mattie has moved back to Nashville. “She’s trying to get her own little business going here,” Alan says. “She wants to open up her own little restaurant/market wine place that’s kind of the popular place in cities now. She’s been looking into doing something like that. She is looking at two locations and trying to figure if it would work or not.”
After 35 years of marriage and raising three daughters, how does Alan feel about the empty nest looming? “Denise is more sentimental about it than I am,” he says. “I just feel like that’s what you raise them for and you prepare them. It’s their time to step out and be young adults. Not that I want to see them go, but that’s what they are supposed to do.”
Alan plans to play select concert dates this summer, but will take some time off to spend with Denise. “I’m not going to do much this fall,” he says. “Our baby is going to college and we’re going to be by ourselves for a change. We’re just going to enjoy doing what we want to do. Our kids have been great, but we are ready to do what we want to do for more than two or three days at a time. We just want to go to the lake house and enjoy the fall and go to Florida in the winter and fish and just chase the sunshine.”
With a successful 25-year career and loving 35-year marriage, just what is left on Alan Jackson’s bucket list? “Nothing left,” he says gratefully. “I just want to keep on making an album or two every now and then. Hopefully some fans will still like it and I’ll tour a little bit. I don’t know how I can ask for much more.”
Let Me Ride
Most husbands have a project or two around the house they plan on tackling during the summer and Alan Jackson is no exception. “I always piddle around with something, an old boat or car, that kind of project going on,” he tells NCW. “I used to do it all the time, a different car restoration project. I don’t do that quite like I used to. I just still piddle around with the same old things like I did when I was a teenager, cars and boats. That’s about it.”
So what’s on his agenda this summer? “I bought an old Range Rover from the ’90s, this kind of collectible thing that I like,” he says. “It’s a four-wheel-drive-kind-of-safari-looking thing.”
When it comes to cars, he admits he’s always been a fan and collected just about every type of automobile at one time or other. “I love all of them,” he says with a grin. “The last I’ve had was a Dodge. I’ve had Fords, haven’t had a Chevy in a while, but I got this new GMC Denali that I like. It’s got more horsepower than any of them and it’s cool looking. And I got a new Jeep, a two-door Jeep that I like.
“I quit buying those sports cars anymore. I mostly drive truck or something. I used to keep a Corvette until they came up with the new model, which I think looks cool, and I bought one but it’s just too tight. They made it even smaller. I can’t hardly even fit in it,” the 6-foot-4-inch singer says. “So I got rid of it. I quit buying the sports cars because I don’t like them. I drive my old trucks mostly.”