Alan Jackson | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Alan Jackson 

Less than two months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, mainstream country's best singer sang a new song called "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" at the Country Music Association Awards. Within days the treacly soft-rock ballad had become a smash hit on country radio; in fact it shot to number one faster than any country song in four years. At its best country music speaks to universal emotions, but though "Where Were You" runs the whole emotional gamut--horror, anger, sorrow, pity, pride--it's a prime example of country at its stereotypical worst. Jackson lets the ignorant masses off the hook, admitting, "I'm just a singer of simple songs, I'm not a real political man / I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you / The difference in Iraq and Iran" and then absolving himself by invoking Jesus. There are two versions of the song on Jackson's recent Drive (Arista), and they've no doubt helped boost album sales--it's sold more than two million copies so far. On the rest of the record Jackson wisely stays away from big statements, and the music is better for it: though there's a fair share of overripe sentiment aimed straight at shopping-mall moms (in "Bring on the Night" a nine-to-fiver yearns to "turn on the feelings and turn out the light"), most of the tunes reflect on classic romantic scenarios. "The Sounds," where he can't stomach the silence of a newly empty home, is a bit heavy; "Work in Progress," where he argues amiably with a nagging wife ("I try to do that healthy thing like you want me to do / But that low fat, no fat's gettin' hard to chew") is easier to swallow. His duet with George Strait on "Designated Drinker" is another old-school highlight. Friday, May 17, 7:30 PM, Tweeter Center, I-80 and Harlem, Tinley Park; 708-614-1616 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tony Phipps.

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