Sound — 9
Alan Jackson has been releasing quality country music for years on end, it seems, and while it's hard enough to maintain success in this pop infested market, it has to be even harder to do so while experimenting with your own sound. On "The Bluegrass Album," Jackson once again releases a fantastic album outside of his usual country market. What 2006's "Like Red on a Rose" (far and away Jackson's best effort, to date) presented in dark, emotional melodies, "The Bluegrass Album" presents in four to six minute songs filled with wonderful picking by an excellent backing band assembled for the album. Though I don't know all the ins and outs of bluegrass, I do recognize the general sound, and Jackson and his band capture it perfectly on this record, seamlessly blending Jackson's signature vocals with the traits that make bluegrass so exciting. Banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and acoustic guitar area constants, and it creates a very rural, backwoods sound that makes the listener feel as though they've been transported to a different place.
Lyrics — 9
Jackson himself wrote a good collection of the songs, and while those songs are paired with bluegrass classics, I must admit that the best tracks, lyrically and vocally, are mostly those tagged with Jackson's name. Highlight tracks include the lead single "Blue Ridge Mountain Song," along with the fantastic "Blue Side of Heaven" and the heart wrenching "Knew All Along." Jackson has that rare ability to add feeling to a song even if he didn't write it, as evidenced by 2012's juggernaut of a song entitled "So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore." That ability is on full display on "The Bluegrass Album" in the songs that Jackson didn't write. "Knew All Along" was written by other hands, and it's perhaps the best song on the album. Jackson is a rare talent, an absolute wordsmith who can convey emotion with the slightest effort. The Bluegrass album is not only an excellent album in terms of instrumental arrangement, it's a vocal journey through highs and lows that can only be conveyed by artists as talented as Alan Jackson.
Overall Impression — 9
Each new year in the country landscape presents more and more pop artists to the radio waves. Today's country artists are all about singing songs about things they've never experienced. For one thing, most moonshine is pretty damn disgusting (because most people don't know how to make it), and if any of these artists tasted it, they'd be less likely to sing about it. Either way, as the years press on and the commercial tumor continues to grow, metastasizing further and further into the radio waves, there is always one album that stands high above the rest (and it's very unlikely that you'll hear it on the radio). In 2010, it was Jamey Johnson's "The Guitar Song." 2011 brought us the fantastic "Chief" by Eric Church (the one exception to the lack of radio play most of these albums experience). When 2012 finally ended, there wasn't an album that even compared to Willie Nelson's "Heroes." In 2013, Alan Jackson has set the bar with the wonderful "The Bluegrass Album." In an album full of intertwining emotions, Jackson gives country listeners who actually have good taste a chance to revel in the fact that the few remaining real country artists are still releasing excellent music.