As I write this, I am listening to vintage Jason Aldean. Not his 2005 self-titled debut album which contains "Hicktown" and "Why." This is a true antique -- an 18-year-old CD -- and I treasure it the way some people might treasure a family heirloom.
The eight songs themselves are really not that much different than the kind Aldean records these days. Maybe they are a little twangier. But, still, they rock. He even has a couple of co-writes on here -- "What She Don't Know" (a steel-guitar-heavy cheatin' tune) and "The Young and the Restless" (about being 17 and carefree and full of dreams). Then there is an old Joe Nichols ballad -- "In Spite of Myself" -- that was written by Keith Follese and was on Nichols' debut album. And a few of these Aldean songs were written by Justin Weaver, who was in Aldean's original band.
I'm guessing Aldean had just finished high school in Macon, Ga., when he started recording this. So it was still a couple of years before he'd move to Nashville.
There is so much to love about this CD. But the sweetest bonus material includes three never-before-seen pictures of Aldean in a white Henley sweater, a mullet, a black cowboy hat and jeans.
The other thing I'm loving so much about this CD -- as much as the music -- is the heartfelt thank-yous Aldean gives to his family, his songwriters, his band, the good Lord and Uncle Richard for "hauling me around to my gigs when I was still too young to drive." But he also makes a point to thank Trisha Yearwood and Faith Hill "for giving me the opportunity to open your shows." He added, "It was an experience I will never forget and I can never thank you enough."
And as for his musical heroes -- Tracy Lawrence, Alabama and George Strait -- Aldean thanks them for making country music what it is today.
I didn't see Aldean in concert in 1996. I wish I had. I wish I'd bought this CD from a 19-year-old Aldean at a card table in the back of a bar somewhere. Instead, I paid a lot of money for it from someone who had done just that. But it is worth every penny I paid. Seeing how much Aldean has changed -- and how much he's remained the same -- makes me want to buy every CD from every show I go to. You just never know which country newcomers will become arena headliners. To me, that makes CDs like this one kind of priceless.