16 Biggest Hits
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2008, Volume 15, #2
Written by John Metzger
Wed February 13, 2008, 09:15 AM CST
Since issuing his debut in 1989, Alan Jackson has been so remarkably consistent that he’s made it easy for his adoring fans and his detractors alike to take him for granted. It’s no wonder that last year he chose to throw a monkey wrench into his tried-and-true, honky tonk formula by issuing the gospel-infused Precious Memories as well as the lovelorn Like Red on a Rose while he still was riding at the top of the country heap. His latest retrospective 16 Biggest Hits retreads the material that fueled his rapid ascent and kept him on the charts. By culling material from each of the nine albums that Jackson made between 1989 and 2001, it essentially serves as a nearly perfect distillation of Greatest Hits and Greatest Hits, Volume 2.
Over the course of 16 Biggest Hits, it becomes clear that Jackson has his familiar touchstones, both in terms of style and subject matter. It’s also apparent that he’s been smart about his approach, changing his material enough to keep it interesting without altering it to the point where he throws an unreachable curve at his audience. Via both his own writing and his well-selected cover songs, he paints portraits that are drawn straight from the heart of the small towns that dot the rural American landscape, and on occasion, he tucks a rather keen observation into their midst. Similarly, Jackson’s roots-oriented arrangements make a connection to the past, yet they are contemporary enough to fit within today’s polished, made-for-CMT sheen. Although one certainly could make a case that he offers little beyond the usual array of country music clichés, he also delivers them with such natural-born confidence and amiability that it’s a difficult task to resist his work.
There’s no question that Jackson loves his record collection, and he’s not afraid to draw comparisons to his heroes by casually mentioning them in the songs that he tackles. The names of George Jones, Bob Dylan, and Hank Williams are dropped into Don’t Rock the Jukebox, Gone Country, and Midnight in Montgomery, respectively. Although this ought to diminish what he does by putting it into perspective, the move proves to have the opposite effect, largely because his neighborly baritone leaves such a tremendous impression. Nobody could possibly argue that Jackson hasn’t played it safe with his career. Yet, anyone who listens closely will hear the dissatisfaction and rebelliousness that lurk within his anthems for Middle America. While Jackson has played the game, he also has provided Nashville with precisely what it needed. His updated rendition of Charlie Rich’s countrypolitan sound from the early 1970s — Gone Crazy, in particular, sounds like a lost outtake — is injected with enough realism to keep Music City USA on the right side of its tendency toward veering into generic, mainstream pop. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box