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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Jackson eschews La La land for Houston show, loses Grammy, but wins fans' hearts

Houston Astrodome, Feb. 28, 1996

By Brian Wahlert

HOUSTON - While most of the music industry was at the Grammy awards, Alan Jackson chose to spend his evening performing at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The Country Music Association's entertainer of the year took the stage in his typical denim sleeveless shirt and white hat and lit right into perhaps his biggest hit yet, "Chattahoochee." Of course, he performed the extended dance version, and he even included a new "third verse," a la Garth Brooks. Don't worry, though - no one gets killed in this wholesome tale of young love on the river.

Next he performed one of his early hits, "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow," and the crowd went wild when he sang the line, "Headin' down to Houston for a show on Saturday night."

The fiddle and steel guitar solos in "Livin' on Love" were outstanding and gave the audience a hint of the Strayhorns' incredible talent before Jackson's back-up band really showed off in performing "Stray Hornpipe," a blistering instrumental off their own album.

Soon, the show took on a quieter tone as Jackson sat down on a stool with his guitar and the band gathered around. He explained that it bothers him when artists call their acoustic shows "unplugged" because really, their instruments still have to be plugged in to be heard. Thus, Jackson calls this segment of his show "half wired."

During this period, he got a chance to connect with the audience as he told the stories of several of his songs before playing abbreviated versions of them: his first hit, "Here in the Real World," the song inspired by a John Wayne movie, "Wanted," a song he wrote but forgot about for a while until a hot new singer named Clay Walker recorded it, "If I Could Make a Livin'," and a tune he wrote with Randy Travis a few years back while they were touring together, "Better Class of Losers."

The highlight of this portion, however, was a surprise bluegrass cover of "Seven Bridges Road." Jackson and his band sounded excellent throughout the song, and the a cappella opening and closing was just gorgeous.

Soon after the acoustic segment, Jackson's lead guitarist cut loose on a long rock guitar solo, and his drummer pounded out a beat on the drums while the stage lights flashed.

What was happening? Had Alan Jackson finally decided to give in to changing musical tastes and include rock songs in his show?

The audience may have had its doubts until Jackson smiled and sang the line, "Don't rock the jukebox/I wanna hear some Jones," thus giving reassurance that he has no intentions of leaving country music.

Two other surprises were the big drum solo that opened another of Jackson's more rollicking songs, "Mercury Blues," and his cover of Hank Williams, Jr.'s 1981 hit, "Texas Women." The song, with its explicit references to the bountiful beauty of that great state, struck a chord with the women in the audience. It was a welcome change from the usually quiet and polite Jackson.

Throughout the show, Jackson was in fine voice, showing that he can sing with the best of the new acts that have come onto the scene since his 1989 debut.

However, what really sets him apart in today's scene of cookie-cutter music is his songwriting. One of the most popular songs with the audience was Jackson's latest single, "I'll Try," which characterizes the best of his writing. The song is so simple, yet it says honestly, succinctly, and directly what every man would love to be able to say to his wife.

It's a measure of an artist's success when he has so many number-one hits that he has to pick and choose which ones to perform. Such classics as "Midnight in Montgomery," "I'd Love You All Over Again," "Dallas," and "Someday," all written by Jackson, were completely absent from the show, not even appearing in abbreviated form in the "half-wired" portion.

Jackson may be a great singer and songwriter, but he is not known as one of the most instrumentally adept of today's country music stars. He relies on his outstanding band to back him up, and they do an incredible job. The guitar, fiddle, and steel solos were played to perfection.

Jackson closed his show with "Gone Country," a song that he didn't write but that says pretty well what's wrong with today's country scene. It didn't matter on this night that Vince Gill beat him out for a Grammy - Jackson was number one in these 53,000 fans' hearts.