Album of the week
In his 1991 hit "Don't Rock the Jukebox," Alan Jackson indelibly linked himself to George Jones, crowing, "I wanna hear some Jones/ My heart ain't ready/ For the Rolling Stones." Keeping up with Jones, though, isn't just a fantasy. Jackson, 43, is sounding more and more like his idol as he matures. On his follow-up to 2000's When Somebody Loves You, Jackson seamlessly bounces from heart-wrenching emotion to good-old-boy playfulness.
Jackson, a Newnan, Ga., native, wrote or cowrote 9 of this disc's 12 tunes, on which he alternately opens his heart and a bottle or three. On the honky-tonkish duet "Designated Drinker," he and guest singer George Strait drown their sorrows over lost loves, but there are also more sentimental, romantic tunes. Even Jones would have to be impressed by the album's first single, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," Jackson's quietly profound reflection on Sept. 11. It's a song that evokes the common pain without resorting to flag-waving or opportunism. Getting to the top of the country heap isn't easy, but Jackson has mastered something just as difficult: staying there with grace and passion.
Bottom Line: A Drive in high gear