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Audio reviews

Alan Jackson in comfort zone, Gretchen Wilson’s tone defiant on new country music albums



Pictured above are the covers of new albums by country music stars Alan Jackson and Gretchen Wilson. (AP photos)

Pictured above are the covers of new albums by country music stars Alan Jackson and Gretchen Wilson. (AP photos)

Alan Jackson, “Freight Train”

(Arista Nashville)

On the twentieth anniversary of his debut album, Alan Jackson continues to prove consistency need not equal complacency. After a few years of challenging himself with side roads that explored traditional gospel, adultcontemporary love songs, and a wide-ranging collection of songs he wrote by himself, Jackson settles back into his comfort zone on “Freight Train.”

The 12 songs mostly find him in a laid-back groove befitting the 51-year-old’s laconic style. “Freight Train” delivers wise lyrics about love, family, loss and familiar comforts set to down-home melodies that lope along with natural ease. Everything seems so casually offhand that it’s almost easy to miss the wisdom of the lyrics and the catchiness of the melodies.

Like influences Merle Haggard or Don Williams, Jackson so wholly embodies his musical persona that, when he’s in the zone like this, there’s no strain or filter between who he is and what he sings. As universal as the songs “After 17” and “The Best Keeps Getting Better” may be, it’s also clear he’s drawing on real-life observations about his daughters and his wife.

That way of presenting a livedin talent without any artifice is why Jackson ranks with the best singersongwriters of his generation ƒ¡C and why “Freight Train” proves he’s still chugging, powerfully and gracefully, on down the line.

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The title song, written by Fred Eaglesmith, is a hard-rolling acoustic boogie tune that gives the singer and his expert studio band a chance to fire up some locomotive power.

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Gretchen Wilson, “I Got Your

Country Right Here”
(Redneck
Records)

The title of Gretchen Wilson’s new album, “I Got Your Country Right Here,” issues both an angry, defiant taunt and a personal manifesto. Facing a turning point in her career, the self-described “Redneck Woman” makes it clear she’s ready to fight in order to make music her way.

Wilson exploded onto the country scene in 2004 with the self-defining No. 1 hit, “Redneck Woman.” Her instant success earned her not only the Country Music Association’s Best New Artist award, but also the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year — a first for a newcomer.

But her fortunes slipped from there. Record company changes and country radio’s lack of support led to Wilson leaving Columbia Records to start an independent label, Redneck Records. Her first album for her own company ratchets up everything she’s accentuated from the start: Blustery southern rock touting a hardpartying, one-of-the-boys attitude and an in-your-face allegiance to blue-collar ideals.

There’s nothing subtle, but plenty colorful, about Wilson’s stomping tunes, from “Work Hard, Play Harder” and the ready-torumble “Earrings Song,” both previously recorded at Columbia, to “Outlaws and Renegades” and the title song, which pay homage to the rebellious elements of country music’s past.

Wilson makes it clear she doesn’t relate with much of country music’s present, but she’s ready to bulldoze a new path for its future.

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The album’s only love song, “I’d Love to be Your Last,” once again proves that Wilson is an underrated ballad singer who is as blunt about her tender side as she is about her rowdy side.

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