Thirty Miles West

Alan Jackson

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Thirty Miles West Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Splitting from his longtime label Arista, Alan Jackson sets up his ACR Records imprint at EMI and releases Thirty Miles West, his 15th collection of new songs. Jackson doesn't use this opportunity as a rebirth but rather a continuation, stripping away the barest hint of extra fat left upon his 2010 Arista farewell Freight Train and delivering his leanest hard country album in years. Unlike his albums of the 2000s, which flirted with the digital age via cutesy novelties like "www.memory," this doesn't bother with the present and often looks toward the past, Jackson enlisting Zac Brown for a nostalgic trip down his hometown "Dixie Highway" and envisioning how he's "Gonna Come Back as a Country Song." There's a constant tugging undercurrent of comfortable regret flowing underneath Thirty Miles West, whether he's stoically playing the part of the bad guy on the dry-eyed ballad "So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore" or seeing his lifetime love almost slip away on "When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey)," the explicitly sad songs neatly balanced by breezy drinking anthems -- he's sipping margaritas, not beer, on "Long Way to Go" -- and rockers so cheery it's easy to overlook how Jackson is talking about how life keeps bringing him down. Over the years, Jackson has perfected that smooth easy touch and here, on a record devoted to new songs written in the classic tradition (many written by Jackson himself, others penned by Terry McBride, Al Anderson, Shawn Camp, Jay Knowles, Adam Wright, and Guy Clark), he is a master of understatement in both his delivery and construction, the songs slowly seeping into your marrow. It's an album only an old pro could make and it's one of the best this ever-reliable singer has ever done.

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