As you would expect from the combination of Alan Jackson and long time producer Keith Steagall, Angels and Alcohol sounds wonderful. The production is precise and Jackson’s voice is both warm and pitch perfect and shows no signs of aging. The musicians are excellent, particularly Brent Mason and JT Corenflos on lead guitars, Bobby Terry on acoustic guitar and banjo, Paul Franklin on pedal steel and Hoot Hester and Larry Franklin on twin fiddles. There is a decidedly more acoustic flavour than in Jackson’s previous straight country albums, probably resulting from his recent acoustic bluegrass album.
Jackson has long been a traditionalist and this stance is reinforced by a 1989 mission statement quote which is printed on the back of the CD booklet. Indeed, there are no loops, rapping or bro country on Angels and Alcohol. What it features is not ‘retro’ music, it is straightforward country of a kind major artists in Nashville haven’t sung for years as they try to keep up with radio’s artificial demands.
The 10 songs, 7 by Jackson himself with 3 outside songs, one of which is from Jackson’s nephew and wife, songwriting team Adam and Shannon Wright, are straight ahead country. The album opener, You Can Always come Home, is a father’s bittersweet advice to a child leaving home, something Jackson knows well as his 3 daughters are that age. The second song, You never Know is a raver with amazing guitar playing from (I think) Brent Mason, gorgeous steel from Paul Franklin and great lyrics and story line – so good it might have been written by Chuck Berry. The title track is mid-tempo with downbeat cautionary lyrics and a rueful spoken piece at the end. I Leave a Light On is a wonderful classic country weeper, superbly done, while Mexico, Tequila and Me is fun, with a sly American Pie reference in the lyrics.
I’m a long time Alan Jackson fan and so am probably biased, but this is a really good album. There are drawbacks; for me the album sags a bit in the middle with 3 mid-tempo rather ordinary songs. The outside songs are not as strong as Jackson’s own writing and I couldn’t warm to Troy Jones and Greg Becker’s When God Paints which is very like Dolly Parton’s God’s Coloring Book, but not as good. However these are very small drawbacks to a great dose of real country.