Like Red on a Rose
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2007, Volume 14, #1
Written by John Metzger
Throughout his career, Alan Jackson deftly has walked the line that divides the rowdiness of his honky-tonk roots from the polished sheen of his contemporary country aspirations. Even so, he threw his fans a true curve ball when he dove headfirst into the quietly reverential, gospel-oriented fare that filled his early 2006 endeavor Precious Memories. Issued a mere seven months later, Jackson’s latest project Like Red on a Rose serves as an equally puzzling departure, though its intimate and deeply personal ruminations also demand a closer inspection.
Intriguingly, Jackson tapped Alison Krauss to produce Like Red on a Rose, but their collaboration appears, at least initially, to be a little one-sided. Not only did she employ her longstanding support act Union Station to back Jackson, but also many of the tracks on the outing — Good Imitation of the Blues and The Firefly’s Song, among them — follow templates that are akin to her own recorded works. In addition, instead of penning the material himself, Jackson tackles a slew of cover tunes, nearly a third of which were written by Krauss’ favorite songwriter Robert Lee Castleman. In other words, it’s Krauss rather than Jackson who, at first glance, has left her imprint upon the endeavor.
As Like Red on a Rose progresses, however, Jackson’s own personality slowly begins to emerge. Although the set is entrenched musically in the ’70s countrypolitan excursions of Charlie Rich, it lyrically finds its resonance within the travail of Jackson’s own experiences with marriage. Delivered with subtlety, the songs convey a sense of aching sorrow — so much so that even when he’s singing about being in love, he remains haunted by a dark and desolate loneliness that he can’t seem to shake. On several occasions — the southern rock-tinged Nobody Said That It Would Be Easy and a soulful interpretation of Herb Pedersen’s Wait a Minute, for example — he attempts to come to terms with (and apologize for) the rambling spirit that not only has driven him toward his life on the road, but also has threatened to derail his relationship with his wife. Elsewhere, he simply yearns for connection. Of course, the biggest surprise is how comfortably Jackson settles into the R&B-laden ambience that fills both Jimmy Holiday’s Don’t Change on Me as well as an updated rendition of his own A Woman’s Love — each of which allows him, at least for a moment, to break free from his painful introspective journey.
In fact, the biggest problem with Like Red on a Rose is that it provides too few opportunities for Jackson to escape from the claustrophobic confines of his sorrow. Undoubtedly, he would have been better served had he tossed aside at least some of the sophistication that clings to the affair, perhaps by expressing his anger and frustration with a little more bite on songs such as Good Imitation of the Blues. Nevertheless, with Like Red on a Rose, Jackson achieves his goal of further distancing himself from the approach that he took to recording during the first 15 years of his career, and the result is that the possibilities for his future explorations are seemingly endless. ½
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box