Ask Alan Jackson about his career and he'll likely say, "I'm just a singer of simple songs."
The modesty is genuine, seeing how Jackson stays away from the spotlight as much as a country superstar can. But his mantra also works as a goal.
And on his new album, "Angels and Alcohol" (ACR/EMI Nashville), Jackson achieves it, with a selection of deceptively simple songs that put all the way-too-clever jokes and all the bro-country currently littering the country airwaves to shame.
Jackson sings like a man who knows what he's doing. That's not to say he doesn't tackle many of the same topics as his country brethren -- drinking, breakups and three-day holidays in his world, too. But he does it better than almost anyone else.
The delightful first single, "Jim and Jack and Hank," proves it, with Jackson balancing a clever run of images -- "Take your string bikinis, your apple martinis . . . take your flat iron and your curlers, your sparkling waters and that damn perfume I never liked" -- with the classic country trinity of Jim (Beam), Jack (Daniels) and Hank (Williams). He spikes the kiss-off, which should be a song of the year contender, with a cranking guitar solo and a litany of country touchstones at the end, ranging from Jose Cuervo to "Willie Nelson and Big John Cash." In a less experienced singer's hands, the song could easily come off as mean-spirited, but Jackson has the sense to inject it with enough humor and self-deprecation.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the lovely "When God Paints," a sweet ballad filled with aching fiddles and plinking pedal steel guitars that Jackson keeps from getting too sappy with his down-to-earth delivery.
On "Angels and Alcohol," Jackson makes a difficult tightrope walk seem effortless and as naturally enjoyable as "Mexico, Tequila and Me."
"Angels and Alcohol"
THE GRADE A
BOTTOM LINE Bro, Alan Jackson's brand of country is way better than yours.