You can always come home Jackson sings on the eponymous opener, a comforting thought from an artist who has never left the comfort of his traditional Country home, singing warm platitudinous ballads or foot-tapping honkey-tonk as on this latest album’s second You Never Know, only ranging outside that safe residence to the other streetcorner albums of gospel and bluegrass, just down the way and within a safe distance.
And this is in praise of Jackson’s polished comfort-zone, one that has seen him sell 60 million albums worldwide. Jackson has written seven of the ten songs on this album, including the title track with its soothingly philosophical lines like you can’t chase lonely with a bottle of wine, asking myself if this means bourbon will suffice, but having to acknowledge the metaphoric maxim of you can’t mix angels with alcohol as a definitive embargo on such a drinking route to true love or even for assuaging the misery when it’s all gone. Hell, just listen to the music for its knowing palliatives because, after all, isn’t that what Country is all about?
Namechecking Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac, Jackson sings on Gone Before You Met Me about travelling and returning, about love and loss, about coffee and kisses, about home boys and hang-around boys and fix-that-sink-put-your-roots-in-the-ground boys where the apocalypse is dang right, it’s a fine life, a semantically apt declarative for embracing domesticity where love for and acquisition of a pretty little woman and 2.5 kids usurps the restless heart.
Something to drink to just keep brushing along [what a great verb use!] continues the alcohol motif in The One You’re Waiting On, a reassuring ballad about acceptance: be happy to be the one you’re waiting on, a line smoothed over pedal-steel, even if it as at a bar over a glass of Cabernet.
It sure isn’t outlaw Country with all these references to wine, but as if to respond to that observation, the following track Jim and Jack and Hank namechecks a different cultural touchstone in bourbons and a Country icon, and the return to honkey-tonk and a few choice country guitar riffs reassures in a different way, the song ending on a litany of Country likes and influences. This territory will get another upbeat visit on closer Mexico, Tequila and Me where Chevy and levy are rhymed without any anxiety over cliché.
The penultimate track on the album When God Paints is the quintessence of Country schmaltz, but Jackson infuses it with the honeyed baritone of his vocal and self-belief in a way that seems to de-cloy the banalities of the lyrics, a soothing simplicity to mirror the simple things it intones in more of that homespun philosophy spinning gently this weave of Country comfort.