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Alan Jackson

Like Red on a Rose (Arista)

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Given his front-pew presence in the Mother Church of True Country Music, Alan Jackson's delivery of an album that evokes such adjectives as "crossover" and even "progressive" might seem like heresy. Yet it's his fealty to the genuine country spirit, ironically enough, that makes Like Red on a Rose such a bouquet for country fans and even listeners who may not care for country.

Some may think it's the twanging guitar, pedal steel, and fiddles that characterize country, but at its core (and best), it's a singer's art, and Jackson is a latter-day master. The somewhat surprising choice of producer Alison Krauss fashions a smart and adult countrypolitan sound that spans from quality roots to classy pop, touching on blues, gospel, and even nods to composer Stephen Foster. With 15 songs one could even call literate -- in contrast to so much from the Music City songwriting factory -- this mature set transcends genre, becoming fine American popular music.

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