I have always liked Alan Jackson’s resonant Country tenor and the stridently traditional sound he delivers – not quite the ardent fan, but when I have that urge for some twang and reassuring platitude wrapped in requisite perfection, he is a certain provider [and that’s perhaps more dismissive than I want to sound, and would positively cite his fine Country album Freight Train from 2010, and especially a beautiful classic song like Tail Light Blue].
I am staunchly averse to the most ‘traditional’ of Country music proclivities where god is invoked as the spirit of America in the most cloying of banalities, so it is clear that my fondness for Jackson as performer assists greatly in the appreciation of his latest album Precious Memories II which is a collection of familiar Christian hymns. I have to acknowledge that as hymns they exist as proclamations of genuine worship rather than an appropriation to underpin the occasional inanities of a culture.
The album begins with the most obvious of covers in Amazing Grace. It is, of course, a beautiful song, and Jackson gives it a graceful rendition. The delivery is so clear and careful that the line ‘save a wretch like me’ seems to be foregrounded, but perhaps the awfulness of that pious expression of weakness and despair hits me much more profoundly than the positive notion of salvation. Indeed, the intentionally uplifting purpose of the hymns prompts an uncontrollable sing-along effect even for this atheist – as on second He Lives – but my prejudices constantly remind me of the meek supplication inherent in those declarations of reverence, and I am angered – but keep singing along! It is easy to see how a person in need can be swayed and comforted and anesthetised by the power of the hymnal through its aural magic as much as lyrical lancing. Imagine this enhanced by the communal context of church and collective voices.
So when I get to a song like O How I Love Jesus you’d imagine I would reject the urge to join in, but O How I Cannot Resist! I do believe it is the building-block effect of singing with the previous and by the fifth track it is a tower too tall to topple, and I'm already singing on the top floor. So sixth, Only Trust Him, prompts another collective chorus. Jackson performs with mainly simple accompaniments – like piano here – and tight Country harmonies which beg to be added to.
The album ends on a richly resonant Wherever He Leads I’ll Go with Jackson’s tenor demonstrating the power of a distinctive voice/vocal as much as the words and sentiments of the hymn. Perhaps there is a thesis to be drawn from this persuasive partnership, with the dichotomy of my intellectual view and involuntary attachment serving as the hypothesis for debate.