Originally intended to be a bluegrass album (the kind of project that would have stood as a logical follow-up to 2005’s Precious Memories, a collection of traditional Southern gospel tunes), Like Red on a Rose, Alan Jackson’s first recording with Alison Krauss as his producer, is, instead, an album of sophisticated, mellow adult pop. The album is yet more proof that Krauss makes any project with which she’s associated sound classy, but for Jackson, one of country music’s most predictable neo-traditionalists for well over a decade now, it’s a radical departure. What surprises most about Like Red on a Rose is how well this departure suits Jackson. With a few exceptions—he’s not a strong enough interpretive singer to overcome the unconventional metric structure of opener “Anywhere On Earth You Are”—Jackson sounds perfectly at ease in Krauss’s arrangements, recalling the best of Mel McDaniel or Don Williams more so than any of its own hits. That he penned only one of the songs—the excellent “A Woman’s Love,” which first appeared on his 1998 album High Mileage—works to his advantage, as these songs avoid Jackson’s weaknesses for novelties and sentimentality; choosing such well-crafted songs as Robert Lee Castleman’s “The Firefly’s Song” and Patrick Brayer’s “Good Imitation Of The Blues” is one of the first times that Jackson can be praised for having good taste. Introspective, sensitive, and smart (the use of “Oh Susana” as a framing device on the melancholy “Where Do I Go From Here” is inspired), Like Red on a Rose is a wholly unexpected move from an artist who seemed perfectly content with his status and already-secured legacy.
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