Driving Home Another Winner

Alan Jackson

This Georgia boy does not know how to record a bad song. For 13 years, we’ve been graced with the pleasing pipes of Alan Jackson. With Drive we learn more about the apparently simple, but poetic life Jackson has lived.

The first single “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” was not even intended to be released. However, public emotion led to it becoming an unofficial anthem of the Sept. 11 tragedy. “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” is about learning to drive a boat as a child – but Jackson’s genius is that he plays two figures off each other the same way the mournful pedal steel plays off the stoic mandolin on “Bring on the Night.” Jackson’s songwriting has grown increasingly introspective and personal over the years. “Designated Drinker,” his second duet with George Strait, seems mannered, but most of his tunes appear natural to the point of artlessness, even when they’re as carefully crafted for effect as “First Love.” This boy is awesome!
Grade: A

The Great Divide
Willie Nelson

Matt Serletic, of Matchbox Twenty and Celine Dion fame, produced Willie Nelson’s latest album of new recordings. He seldom appreciates choruses that aren’t cluttered with background vocalists.

Nelson overcomes even these most unflattering treatments, but there are only a few songs that Nelson fans will crave. The best is the album-closing “You Remain.” It is gorgeously sad, and Bonnie Raitt’s simple, spare harmonies work with Willie’s voice to create something special. Nelson’s one songwriting contribution, the title track, is another winner. The country single “Mendocino County Line” features a strong duet vocal from fellow Texan Lee Ann Womack.
Grade: C-

Lovesick Broke & Driftin’
Hank Williams III

Unusual, that’s the best way to sum up Hank III. He’s got his granddaddy’s voice, that’s for sure, and on songs like “Whiskey, Weed and Women,” he’d have you believe the family demons are alive and coursing through the veins of his tattooed arms. This boy’s got a lot of nerve, too, as he belts Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” into a half-century-old, two-step style that is better suited to tales of Louisiana than New Jersey.

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What’s really hard to tell is whether the third generation Williams will ever hold sway over his generation the way Hiram did over his, or if he’s just a sideshow for a bunch of hillbillies-for-thrills who are infatuated with the mythology of a 29-year-old who took a lot of pills and died. The first option’s a heck of a legacy to live up to, but the second’s a harder act to follow.
Grade: B-

Can’t Back Down
Collin Raye

Where’s this guy been? He’s still singing sensitive, serious soft rock (including tunes by Kim Carnes and Michael McDonald) with fiddles and steel. But on this new record – his last for Epic – Collin leaves in a cloud of dust.

There are messages – life is both precious and unpredictable, learn to budge in relationships, nothing can take away your pride, but if you don’t learn humility something will teach it to you – but they never rise to the level of his best efforts. “Young as We’re Ever Gonna Be,” is Raye’s self-penned, cliché-filled attempt at writing a Bruce Springsteen track. Because they’re inwardly focused, these efforts are more inspirational than preachy. Let’s get back to the Collin of “Love, Me” and “Little Rock” fame.
Grade: D+