Retro Album Review – Alan Jackson’s ‘Under The Influence’

Author: Leon Blair

So Leon, why are you reviewing an album from 1999? Well, I’m not quite certain this is going to be a regular thing given how much Andy already covers classic albums, but I really just felt in the slow lull of January that I should take the time to cover something different. Once the year rolls on I’ll have my nose so deep into finding a new album to review that I probably won’t have the chance to do something like this again.

Ah, alright. So what made you want to cover Alan Jackson’s album Under The Influence album? Honestly I wish I had a better answer other than, “I found the CD for it yesterday and rediscovered it” but that’s what I got.

That’s quite alright, sometimes music can do that to you. Anyway, can you tell us what this project is all about? – Well as Alan himself states in the liner notes (God I miss liner notes. I have a piece coming out on this actually), “I’ve always wanted to do this album, ever since I started making records. I didn’t really think of it as a commercial record, I thought it would be something to have in my catalog. I thought it would be something that my fans would like, to know some of the songs that inspired me. The label got excited about it, and got behind the project”.

​That’s right folks, there was once a time when a country artist got to make the album THEY wanted to make. In addition, the album wasn’t filled with classics such as “Folsom Prison Blues”, or “Mama Tried”, songs that people know, but rather the songs they DIDN’T know, the songs that connected on a personal level with Alan Jackson. Hell, the label was even behind all of this! It sounds screwed up compared to today, I know, but it really happened. The result is absolutely one of Alan Jackson’s best albums to date, and one of my personal favorite albums, period.
 
Wow, that’s amazing, especially since it was his seventh major label project, a time when he was riding high on the charts! – Exactly, this wasn’t a side project meant to hold over fans, it was an album that spawned two top ten hits, one of which number one! It also had another song that fared poorly but we’ll be coming back to that.

Alan Jackson

Well then it sounds like you’re ready to talk about the highpoints of this project! – I sure am, and honestly with an album of covers, what else can I really say other than Alan just nails every single song here? I know, it’s a clichéd way to describe it, I get it, but that doesn’t make it not true. Alan’s got one of the best voices out there in my opinion, so to hear him tackle these songs is amazing.
 
Actually, that brings me to my first point – the scope of this album. Like I said, it’s not just a “covers” album, it’s an album that represents a key element of country music – holding on to the roots laid down by those before us. I know I don’t grade with consideration of genre here, and I know the whole debate about genre has erupted into one giant mess, but damn it, I can’t help but feel proud to be a country music listener when I hear this. It’s simply Alan honoring his heroes, the people that inspired him not only through tough times, but also inspired him to carry on the torch for country music. I know I keep harping on the fact but it is so essential to stress when talking about this project.
 
Since I have droned on long enough though, I’ll tell you some highlights. The shining example is definitely Hank Williams’ Jr. “The Blues Man” with changed lyrics to represent Alan’s third person point of view as opposed to Hank’s original first person point of view. It’s definitely the most gripping song lyrically, telling of how Hank had to live in his father’s shadow and how his life was filled with trouble until his wife came and well, took the blues away so to speak. I mean, I knew Hank for his rowdier songs like “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” and “A Country Boy Can Survive”, but I had never known he wrote something like this before.
 
Really, I think that speaks to another asset on this album – the selections. Again, these aren’t monster hit songs, they’re deep cuts that resonated with Alan. Hell, I could make a whole career on these. Sure, there are some well known songs like Charley Pride’s “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” and Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” (fun duet here if I might add), and they’re both damn great here. The big message however was, “I’m Alan Jackson, I love country music, here are some of the heroes that inspired me”.
 
Sounds like a good project, are there any low points or criticisms or even nitpicks you have with this? – Honestly, I’m not sure I do. There comes a point as a critic when you have to seperate the albums you personally love a lot from the albums you can acknowledge might have some flaws or things you could nitpick, but as someone who just operates on the basis of the former perspective of grading based on personal perspective, no I can’t say I have any. I mean sure, could some some stronger deep cuts have sneaked their way onto here? Sure, but for one, 1999 wasn’t all roses, there still had to be some single worthy songs, and two, they’re what Alan considers to be among his favorite songs, how can I argue with that? This record both speaks to a larger level in regards to country music as well just creates a damned good time for the listener. Sure, it’s a covers album, but again, it’s not just that.
 
I see, so do you have any closing thoughts? – Overall, this is one of my favorite albums of all time, Like some Alan Jackson songs like “Three Minute Positive Not Too Country Up-Tempo Love Song” or “Gone Country”, there’s so much going on with this than what’s just on the surface. Some outlets may think that a definition for country music doesn’t exist, and I do agree that it’s hard to define exactly, but honoring those who came before and paved the way for us is something that is undoubtedly a key part of the genre.
 
So the final verdict is…? – Well, over time I’ve become stingy about handing out that perfect score, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t a…..

(10/10)

12 thoughts on “Retro Album Review – Alan Jackson’s ‘Under The Influence’

  1. Well I won’t be able to change them until tomorrow so I’ll point them out now – two typos here:
    1.) I’ll have my “nose” so deep in country, not noise…
    2.) “I know, it’s a clichéd way to describe it, I get it, but that doesn’t make it true” Obviously I meant “doesn’t make it NOT true” :p

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  2. Awesome review Leon! I like seeing the throwback reviews because there is some albums I have never listened too and this gives me ideas of stuff to go check out. I’m not a huge fan of Margaritaville or Jimmy Buffet in general if I’m being honest. Usually covers aren’t as great as the original but, I think he nailed them pretty well. Revinoor Man I actually heard recently on a bluegrass station covered by a bluegrass artist I liked that version a lot. It’s crazy to think labels actually got behind stuff like this when you look at them now. I can’t imagine a label in 2017 allowing something like this or Up on the Ridge from Bentley.

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    1. Thanks!
      Yeah, “Margaritaville” was definitely the one song her I was on the fence about for that perfect score, but I also think the song works a hell of a lot better as a duet, especially when Alan and Jimmy play off of each other the way they do.
      No, I can’t imagine labels doing this kind of thing either today. I can’t for the life of me think why so many try to target radio as the #1 thing in the world but they do, and the artists suffer as a result…

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      1. U would think they would see how much success artists can have without radio if their music is quality stuff. All the time, money and effort wasted on radio just baffles me. The biggest star in the genre Chris Stapleton can’t get significant radio play

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  3. See, that’s an interesting point – who really is to blame for bad songs (at least what we think of as bad)? We can blame the artists, sure, but that’s not entirely fair. If you’re a newer artist like William Michael Morgan or Jon Pardi of course you have to play “the game” a little if you want to get anywhere. We can blame the labels, but there are definitely exceptions where they try to create artists of real substance beyond the radio. Look at Big Machine with the Mavericks at one point. We can blame radio, but they play what the labels give them. It’s an interesting topic to dive into. I don’t know the answer.

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  4. “Margaritaville” does work better as a duet. I only discovered “Blues Man” recently through my boyfriend, and I think Alan’s version is better than the original. There is also a version on YouTube by George Jones and Dolly Parton that is pretty amazing. It makes a really cool duet and sort of says something different as a duet.

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    1. Oh I can definitely see that as a duet. Especially considering both the man and woman play important roles in the song, it even sounds like it SHOULD be a duet come to think of it. I’ll have to look up that version soon. Thanks for telling me about it.

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    2. Also, just saw your review for Jason Eady and Courtney Patton. My comment isn’t going through for some reason over there but I just want to say great job on the review!

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  5. Great review of a great album, Leon. This is my very favorite Alan Jackson album, and one of my all-time favorites. I can’t remember when I heard this album for the first time – I’m guessing around 2007ish – but I’m pretty sure it sent me down the rabbit hole and was my gateway to artists like John Anderson, Charley Pride, etc. And heck, I’m not ashamed to say I love “Margaritaville.” And “Right in the Palm of Your Hand” is a damn-near masterpiece, IMO.
    As for “The Blues Man”, in my view Hank Jr. was a brilliant songwriter back in the day, and a great lyric like this was in no way atypical for him. Unfortunately, he very quickly went downhill after the early ’80s (I pretty much regard 1981’s The Pressue is On as his last truly good album), but his old stuff is gold, full of great, understated ballads that most people don’t know exist.

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    1. Yeah my new review style has made forget to designate the best and worst songs of every album, but “Right In The Palm Of Your Hand” is definitely a highlight. There just came a point when all I could really say about each song was “Alan did a great job”, haha. I really couldn’t pick a least favorite honestly. Is every track a homerun song of the year candidate? No, but it’s a complete body of work that I can’t find a flaw in.
      I really have to explore more of Hank ‘ s discography. I didn’t care for his last album but I’m sure he’s got some classics that I don’t even know about.

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    1. Alan is always one of those performers who comes sort of near my area but never actually to it, something that’s frustrated me to no end. Damn though, him and Stapleton and Maddie and Tae would have been great. I would have killed to see that show.

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