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Alan Jackson At Carnegie Hall, Monday, October 28th, 2013, Reviewed

Jackson claimed it was the second time he played Carnegie

“I’ve played here before with the Opry, I’ve played the Beacon Theater, Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden. I’m fortunate enough to have been here many times in the last 27 years,” Alan Jackson tells us. Perhaps. but why did he have to wait for me to show to play his new, nothing special The Bluegrass Album, over an excruciating two hours?

I couldn’t have been more excited to see any one than I was to check out one of the great living country singers of our time. I put him behind George Strait, Vince Gill and John Anderson in the male country divisions. But Bluegrass is a different nut and I can assure the Del McCoury Band is losing no sleep today, because, man did it feel like Jackson missed the point. On the Carnegie Hall Playbill  it claims The Bluegrass Album “flows as easily as a mountain stream”, so if you are in the market for a set that flows as smoothly as a snooze on a river raft be my guest, but if you wanted an Alan Jackson show like he plays around State Fairs all summer with one hit after another, jumped up, thrilling hoe downs with the occasional country ballad thrown in for taste, you’re pit of luck cowboy.

That show, the one Jackson has been performing all year, is with his everyday band, the show we got on Monday night was especially put together for this bluegrass record and the playing is tight, beautiful, the solos so strong, and the jam, nearly every song has a jam in the middle and at the end, every instrument,Sammy Shelor on banjo,  from his full time band Scott Coney on  guitar,Tim Crouch fiddle, Adam Steffey especially great on mandolin, as well as Tim Dishman on stand up bass gets the chance to shine, once, twice, three times.  No drums and an hour in and I am falling asleep. The songs on Alan’s new album just aren’t good enough to withstand such heavy duty musical musings.  Everything is a little tepid and prolonged and quiet, husssh husssh, this is serious stuff.

Meanwhile, Alan tells stories between songs and the man exudes a calm, Southern gentlemanly politeness but he sure isn’t exciting. A story about being the only white man on a stage with Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston might be funny except it is so pointless it is only in bad taste.

I sat on my hands waiting for something to happen. And it did happen. Lee Ann Womack came out and nailed Don Williams “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good” and put Jackson on notice. He came through  with a lively bluegrass version of “Let’s Get Back to You and Me” and followed it with a terrific version of Jon Anderson’s “Wild And Blue”.

And then Anderson goes off the grid, sends away his band, and performs his 9-11 tribute song “Where Were You When The World Stops Turning”. It gets a standing ovation and it deserved it as well, a heartfelt right song right place except, didn’t I just trash it a day ago? I didn’t like the “I don’t know if I can tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran”.

1. I don’t believe him –nobody is that’s stupid.

2. If he says it to profess political innocence, it doesn’t. It professes the opposite. If Jackson doesn’t know who the US is fighting or is friends with, or why they are fighting them, how can he claim the world stopped turning? Perhaps the US got what it deserved? Jackson doesn’t know if he is comopletely clueles about the Middle East.

I hate celebrating American ignorance as a way to express American simplicity or faith. And even the basic metaphor doesn’t quite work but the chorus sure does.

“But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love”

Carnegie Hall may be an uncomfortable place to see a band, it may be in need of a major overhaul, the space between the seat and the back of the row ahead of you is knee breakingly small, and in the cheap seats there is one obstructed view after another, but it is still a musical cathedral  and Jackson knew this song he had to deliver so he threw everyone off stage  and with just a guitar he got this anti-jingoist (not to mention agnostic) to believe in him.

I left two songs into the encore and my grade is still pretty high but I expected a performance off the charts and I got a snooze; Sunday night Drake was disappointing, Monday it was Jackson’s turn to put us to sleep. Del McCoury would have told Alan bluegrass isn’t about musing, it’s about action.

Grade: B


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