Alan Jackson's "Precious Memories Vol. 2" Album Review
Sequels are perilously tricky. Whether it is a movie or a book or a music album, the second installment often struggles to live up to the novelty hype generated by the successful original. In 2006, country music legend Alan Jackson took a breather and released his first ever Gospel album entitled "Precious Memories." It was released when Jackson was riding on the crest of superstardom when every song he released to country radio was a guaranteed hit. Hits songs such as "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," "Drive (For Daddy Gene)" and "Remember When" spryly flourished. Rarely would a song miss its stay on the penthouse of the chart. Anything Jackson touched turned platinum including "Precious Memories." Though no radio single was serviced, Jackson's first Gospel album went double platinum (selling over 2 million copies) and it debut on the Billboard Christian and Country album charts at number one. Almost seven years later, however, circumstances have changed for Jackson. His last couple of studio albums hardly produced a top 10 hit. In fact, the trio of singles released from his last year's "Thirty Milles West" all failed to crack even top 20. It would be interesting to see how "Precious Memories Vol. 2" will flare considering such a dour turn in Jackson's career.
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Commerciality aside, this project (just like its prequel) is a labor of love. Out of his filial piety to his aging mother and his mother-in-law, Jackson has decided to record yet another collection of traditional hymns of the church. The song selection here is safe; for anyone who has had some exposure to the more traditional side of Christian worship could easily hum along with Jackson on evergreens such as "Amazing Grace," "He Lives" and "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder." But sonically, this album is stridently tangent to Jackson's neo-traditional country of rollicking honky tonk sprinkled with a light dose his patented humor. Rather, "Precious Memories Vol. 2" (like its predecessor) is Jackson's quietest record to date. Hushed, reverent and scantily clad with Jackson's warm tenor and nothing more than just an acoustic guitar, an organ, a piano and harmony vocals. Such a deliberately intricate sound brings out an intimate, emotional and personal side of Jackson that we hardly encounter when he lets loose and rocks on his charted hits.
Most importantly, listening to this album reveals that these hymns mean a lot to Jackson. Sure there could have been a thousand versions of John Newton's "Amazing Grace." And truth be told, neither Jackson nor his long time producer Keith Stegall did any melodic gymnastics to it. Jackson just sings it straight; yet there is something in the way Jackson nuances this ode of God's grace that makes you listen intently. Jackson is particularly effective in the slower hymns such as "Only Trust Him," "Sweet Hour of Prayer" and "Just as I Am." In fact, the simplicity of the backings places the cynosure on Jackson's vocals making him more emotionally (and spiritually) striking. Thus, when he sings "Only Trust Him," it is as if Jackson has come out of the speakers and gently nudging us with deepest earnestness to trust our blessed Savior.
However, on the more propulsive hymns such as "He Lives," "Love Lifted Me" and "There is Power in the Blood" Jackson's underwhelming performances just could not bring out the dynamic power of these chestnuts. It is almost impossible to sing with believability the miraculous power of Christ's resurrection on "He Lives" with such a minimalist approach. If Jackson could bring back the electrifying verve he has invested into his secular hits such as "It's a 5 o'clock World" or "Don't Rock the Jukebox," these hymns would be jumping with Holy Spirit exuberance. Nevertheless, for an intimate reading of hymns you can worship with, "Precious Memories Vol. 2" is a warm, gentle and heart rendering record.
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