Record Review - 1 November 10 2004

Over the past 15 years, Newnan native Alan Jackson has become an icon in contemporary country music, and he did it the hard way. By sticking to what he knows and believes in, Jackson is the superego to rowdy-boy Toby Keith's id. This dichotomy is exemplified in how both artists responded musically to the 9/11 attacks. Jackson pondered the emotional impact on the American psyche, and Keith immediately threatened retaliation with "a boot up your ass." Because of his reflective nature, Jackson has delivered a vast catalog of great songs that will likely stand the test of time. Then again, his tendency toward sappiness and silliness has made it so that he also has a bunch of tunes that are best forgotten. His newest release, What I Do, is representative of the formula. When it's good, it's damn good, but when it ain't, look out.

At a time when most male country artists put out songs that are either watered-down, '70s soft rock or embarrassing emasculations, Jackson stands out with his traditional sound and willingness to be a real man. Whether facing heartbreak on "Rainy Day in June" or carnal anticipation on "Burnin' the Honky Tonks Down," Jackson knows what makes a good country song work. He gives a nod to the creative skills of former Atlantans Adam (Jackson's nephew) and Shannon Wright by covering their thoughtful "If Love Was a River," and Adam's solo-written "Strong Enough." Both tunes stand light-years above Jackson's own silly "If French Fries Were Fat Free," which equates the loss of love with a pointless and impossible metaphor. Thankfully, Jackson redeems himself with his finely crafted "You Don't Have to Paint Me a Picture." It's clear that Jackson has figured out the secret to longevity. He changes his sound just enough to make it interesting, but always keeps it country and true to who he is and what he believes.

Alan Jackson plays Philips Arena Fri., Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m. $54.50-$64.50. The Wrights and Martina McBride open.