Seventeen years into his career at Arista Records, Alan Jackson has been full of surprises in 2006. In February, he released his first gospel album, Precious Memories, which is now certified platinum. And although he has no plans to walk away from a successful relationship with longtime producer Keith Stegall, Jackson worked with another well-known producer — Alison Krauss — for his just released album, Like Red on a Rose.
During a recent interview, Jackson talked to CMT Insider’s Laura Douglas about the new music and his experiences in the studio with Krauss.
You got together with Alison Krauss to record a bluegrass album, but it didn’t really turn out to be bluegrass.
Jackson: I wanted to do a bluegrass album, so I asked her, and she agreed. She had the idea about doing this concept … about a mature, reflective, moody, melancholy kind of album from a person or singer at my age in life. I didn’t quiet understand what she was hearing. She’s very creative, and she brought some songs out and put some little acoustic guitar demos for me to listen to. We went in to cut three sides just to see what it was going to sound like — if it was going to work. We tried that. … It sounded cool. The record label felt like we could do something with it, so it turned into my regular country album.
But it’s definitely different. You mention it reflects a different stage in your life. What does it reflect about your life now?
Well, I don’t know. I think if you listen to all the songs’ content, a lot of them are from somebody who’s lived a little while — through some things good and bad and understanding where they’re at now … and looking back and being able to reflect on that and maybe affect how they think in the future and all that kind of stuff. I don’t know if it’s intended to be that deep or that personal — because I didn’t write any of those songs but one. And it was an old song I wrote years ago which was on another album. It’s just more kind of the mood of the whole album in the way the songs kind of fit together.
What was it like working with Alison?
Aw, she’s all right. (laughs) She doesn’t have a big ego and I don’t either. We got along together. I have so much respect for her musically. It was pretty much all her project. She brought the songs, and we got together on those and picked them out and the arrangements. She thought everything through really well, and basically, I came in and sang. I think that the hardest part for her was to put up with my singing. (laughs) … It took a little while. She had to deal with that, but other than that, it was great.
Are you happy with the final results?
Oh, yeah. I’m very proud of the sound. I think it’s just beautiful. It’s exactly what I was wanting … to have an album you could put in and listen to and with your wife with a bottle of wine. It’s not as commercial sounding as it could have been. Everybody has kept saying it’s so different. But when you sit down and listen to the songs, I have ballads on albums over the years that are not that different than these songs — and even the production is similar. There is some real moody stuff I’ve had like “I’ll Go on Loving You” and “The Blues Man” and other songs. … Her production is a little different than what would probably done and a little different than what I’ve had in the past. I think it’s just beautiful — beautiful tracks and the harmonies she put together. Some all-star harmony singers on there.
What are you hearing from your fans about the title track that’s your current single?
I’ve heard a lot of nice comments. I can tell if people hearing a song are affected by it. … People I know from in town that aren’t even in the music business just say, “Hey, I heard your new song. I really like it.” If it’s a mediocre song, you don’t hear any comments at all. So I’m already hearing a lot of response. … I’ve done this one a couple of times [in concert] and can tell the crowd’s reaction. A lot of people have already heard it and are liking it, so it’s a good sign.
It’s one of those songs everyone can interpret for themselves.
It’s just a beautiful song. Robert Lee Castleman is a really great writer — a little different lyric and melody. The first time I heard that demo, I knew it was a great song. I immediately threw that one in the pile to record. I think the way he put that together … you can’t get more descriptive than “like red on a rose.”
It includes the line, “I love you like all little children love pennies.” I’ve never heard love described that way.
He’s had a lot of interesting thoughts, and there’s two or three of his songs on the album. I’ve recorded one on another album, and Alison has done two or three of his songs. She’s a big fan of his.
“The Firefly’s Song” was written specifically for this album?
Yeah, Robert Lee wrote that. I told Alison how much I liked “The Lucky One,” and he wrote that. And when it came out on her album, I was waiting to see if she was going to release that as a single. I was thinking about re-recording it later. She told him that, so he wrote this “The Firefly’s Song,” and it has a similar feel to “The Lucky One.”
As you mentioned earlier, “A Woman’s Love” is a reinterpretation of a song you first recorded in 1998.
Yes. That’s just a little song I wrote, and it was on High Mileage. It was never a single, but I always loved the song. Alison wanted to redo it. She had this idea of changing the arrangement up a little bit, so that’s where it started. And it took me a while to get a grasp on what she was hearing on that song. She had to demo it for me … and I wasn’t even sure about it even after recording it. But now it really sounds interesting on the album. It’s pretty cool, I think, the cut on that song. The piano solo on it is one of my favorites on the album.
What is your favorite track on the album?
Man, don’t ask me that! I don’t know. … It’s hard to pick. It’s not a cop-out, but all the songs are so different. They all have different things I like about them, so it’s hard to narrow down to one song. Oh, gosh. I don’t know. I like “Nobody Said That It Would Be Easy.” Don’t ask me. I don’t know. I like a lot of them.
I know you won’t stop working with Keith Stegall as your producer, but would you work with Alison again?
I wouldn’t work with her for a million dollars. (laughs) No, of course I would. I mean, I don’t think she would want to work with me anymore. But, yeah, it depends on what the project was and if we were all interested in working together.
Would you say this is the most personal album you’ve done?
No, I couldn’t say that. I’ve had albums with songs that I’ve written about right out of my life that probably are speaking more about me personally. So I wouldn’t say so.
What do you hope fans will get out of hearing this different side of you?
Well, I don’t know. I hope they like it. It’s still entertainment — no matter what style of recording it is. I hope it’s something people will enjoy and find something in there to connect with or make them feel better or have fun with or whatever. You know, that’s what I always try to do with an album — with a collection of songs you can sit down and listen to without having to skip every other track because you don’t like them.
I doubt anyone does that.
Well, they might. (laughs)