Two Bluegrass Truths From James King And Alan Jackson | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Two Bluegrass Truths From James King And Alan Jackson

Play associated audio

On Three Chords and the Truth, bluegrass musician James King picks from the canon of country music to rearrange its songs as bluegrass. On The Bluegrass Album, country star Alan Jackson has recorded his first collection of bluegrass music — some classics, some originals.

King takes the title of his new album from a famous quote by the great songwriter Harlan Howard — who, when asked to define a good country music song, said it was "three chords and the truth." King, a widely respected singer, put out an album a few years ago called The Bluegrass Storyteller, which had become his nickname. Well, you could say that storytelling is more central to classic country music than, say, an intricate fiddle solo, and thus King's move into hardcore country was almost inevitable.

King sings in a modest, almost muffled manner, as though it would be impolite to obscure so much as one strum of a mandolin. It's modesty similar to what has characterized Alan Jackson's career. He's now one generation removed from country music's current tier of superstars, for whom reticence is a downright liability. But this manner makes Jackson's second-act career move as a bluegrass fan a smooth one.

Jackson wrote eight of the 14 cuts on The Bluegrass Album, and they are sturdily constructed models, weakened in spots by the author's disinclination to do anything showy, new or deeply emotional with the form. A key sentiment to this collection is to be found in Jackson's song "Let's Get Back to Me and You," in which he tells his wife, "I don't like the blues / I like love that's true, honey / Let's get back to me and you." In country music, few things are more enshrined than having the blues and being unfaithful. Jackson's sentiments here may be admirable, but they're not always the stuff of exciting music — and yet it sure is pretty.

Both of these country-bluegrass hybrids by James King and Alan Jackson share a devotion to craft. Both albums feature impeccable arrangements for mandolin, fiddle and banjo. Both employ the singer Don Rigsby for harmony vocals. It's hard not to give the edge, however, to King's Three Chords and the Truth. His album contains that extra splash of vinegar, that additional twist of tightened emotionalism, that gives both bluegrass and country their distinctive kinds of artistic truth.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

5 Under-The-Radar Reads From Librarian Nancy Pearl

Pearl shares the books she loved this year that you might not have heard of. Her list includes a Hollywood satire, two thrillers, a young adult novel and a nonfiction book about World War I.
NPR

What The Change In U.S.-Cuba Relations Might Mean For Food

The decision to normalize relations is driving all kinds of speculation about American food companies opening up shop in Cuba. But analysts say: Don't expect to see McDonald's there anytime soon.
NPR

Education Dept. Issues Framework For New College Rating System

The interim outline indicates that such factors as access, affordability and student outcomes will be key to the system first announced by President Obama in 2013.
NPR

U.S. Authorities Investigate, Sony Reels From Computer Hack

The White House has stopped short of naming North Korea as the aggressor in the cyberattack against Sony Pictures. That hack resulted in the cancellation of the film The Interview.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.