Alan Jackson's labor of love, 'The Bluegrass Album,' is worth a holler (CD Review)

Chuck Yarborough, The Plain Dealer
September 11, 2013 at 3:34 PM, updated September 11, 2013 at 4:56 PM

‘The Bluegrass Album’
Alan Jackson
ACR Records / EMI Records Nashville

Jazz musicians may be the best in any genre, but if that’s true why is the saying, “Close enough for jazz’’ and not “Close enough for bluegrass?’’

The reality is that yeah, jazz is tough. So is classical. And in some cases, rock. But there’s nothing hiding mistakes, miscues and faux pas (faux pases?) in bluegrass. That’s because it’s pure, acoustic and the only truly American form of music.

Sure, there are European vestiges in it, but that mountain sound is pretty much like 190-proof musical moonshine.

So you can understand country traditionalist Alan Jackson’s affinity for the genre. Geographically speaking, his home state – Georgia – is the perfect storm for bluegrass, surrounded by Appalachia.

The album Jackson said he’s always wanted to do comes out on Sept. 24, and he wrote eight of the 14 songs. But they sound as if they could’ve been born on mountaintops and in “hollers’’ in the hills centuries ago. All of the Jackson-penned songs have some great lines in them, but two in particular – “Appalachian Mountain Girl’’ and “Blue Ridge Mountain Song’’ – go beyond mere lyric and become absolute poetry, almost to the point of a hillbilly Shakespeare.

“Blue Ridge Mountain Song’’ is about a woman who dies too soon, leaving her young husband to mourn what could have been. In “Blue Side of Heaven,’’ the speaker is the dying husband, who tells his soon-to-be-widow not to lament the loss of what was, but to anticipate the joy of what is to come when they are reunited on the other side of the Pearly Gates.
The album is true to the genre, performed with acoustic guitars, fiddles, upright basses and authentic mountain harmonies. And because of that it, it fits that the final cut on the CD is the lone cover – Bill Monroe’s classic “Blue Moon of Kentucky.’’

What makes it a particular joy – besides Jackson slowing the tempo to a tortoise pace, allowing all the nuances and harmonies to develop – is that he literally uses it as a chance to “introduce the band’’ and producers and engineers, and thank them for their work and us for listening.

I’ve never heard that on anything but a live recording. But it adds to the beauty and authenticity of the CD. To return – sort of – to my opening line, it’s “close enough to perfect.’’ Grade: A.