Personnel: Scott Coney (acoustic guitar); Rob Ickes (dobro); Sammy Shelor (banjo); Adam Steffey (mandolin); Tim Crouch (fiddle); Don Rigsby, Ronnie Bowman (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: John Kelton.
Recording information: The Castle, Franklin, TN.
Alan Jackson has had quite a run. At 54, he's had nearly a quarter of a century of being a big ticket draw in country music, with 25 number one country hits under his belt and a solid reputation as perhaps the best neo-traditionalist singer and songwriter of his generation -- he's certainly been the most commercially successful. Times change, though, and contemporary country stations, in love with younger stars and a hybrid country/rock/pop sound, don't play Jackson much these days, if at all. Jackson appears to have accepted that, because this set, his 15th studio album, finds him going bluegrass, a genre country music stations aren't likely to lend much credence to. There's nothing too startling on The Bluegrass Album. It's bluegrass, after all, and Jackson's warm, familiar voice drops right in among the banjos, mandolins, and fiddles like it was born to be there, and he wrote most of the songs here, including the fine opener "Long Hard Road," and the interesting "Blacktop," where Jackson takes issue with contemporary country's fascination with dirt roads, which, Jackson wryly notes, are full of pot holes and stir up dust which gets all over the washing when it's hung out to dry. He also pulls off a few covers, including Adam Wright's (Wright co-produced this set with Keith Stegall) "Ain't Got Trouble Now," the Dillards' "There Is a Time," and a 3/4 waltz time version of Bill Monroe's classic "Blue Moon of Kentucky," each of which fits in nicely with the eight originals Jackson wrote for this project. In the end, Jackson's foray into bluegrass seems easy and natural, as if he'd been playing it all along. Contemporary country stations might not play it, but Jackson is unconcerned. He's earned the right to drop out of the rat race and do whatever he wants to do, and for now, that means bluegrass. ~ Steve Leggett