Upon first glance, Alan Jackson's devout album of Christian spirituals, Precious Memories, seemed like a worthy but curious detour, a step off the hard country path for the best of all modern honky tonk singers, and that the next time around he would be back in familiar territory; after all, he made a career out of being reliable. As it turned out, that studiously quiet collection of traditional gospel tunes kicked off a particularly adventurous 2006 for Jackson, since he followed it up seven months later with Like Red on a Rose, a record quite unlike any other he's made. This is a smoky, intimate record; it's romantic, to be sure, but not seductive -- instead, it's the sound of longtime love, the sound of happiness. Which is hardly the same thing as a bright, sunny record, since Like Red on a Rose is anything but that. This is a record designed for late-night listening, either with the one you love or as you're lost in reflection on your own. In a sense, it's a country variation on Frank Sinatra's classic late-night saloon records. Jackson is certainly not as haunted as Frank was on In the Wee Small Hours -- if anything, he's the opposite, pleased with where he's at in life -- but it has the same sense of introspection, and Like Red on a Rose is also at its heart an interpretive work. There is only one Jackson original here, a revival of his 1998 tune "A Woman's Love." The other 12 songs are all penned by other writers, largely songs that aren't well known to the general public (only the closer of Leon Russell's "Bluebird" can qualify as a popular classic). There are plenty of songs about love, but also songs about growing older, having and enjoying a family, yet still sometimes feeling restless. So, it's every bit the concept album that one of Sinatra's albums is, and in its own way, Like Red on a Rose is just as effective, thanks to Jackson's supple singing; he's always rightly been acknowledged as one of the great singers in country music, but he's never had a chance to show such a range as he does here. Give some credit to producer Alison Krauss, whom Jackson originally approached with the idea of recording a bluegrass record. Krauss helped steer Alan in this direction, and he ran with it, winding up with a record that's every bit as surprising as Precious Memories, yet greater. On that record, it was possible to hear Jackson work at achieving his goal. Here, he's effortless, and the result is an uncommonly rich and moving album. If 2006 has been this eventful, who knows where Jackson will go in 2007?
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine