Song Review: Alan Jackson, “The Older I Get”

Who better to review on Valentine’s Day than one of country music’s most beloved stars?

George Strait may have been dubbed “The King,” but Alan Jackson matched him hit-for-hit and award-for-award for over two decades, and the pair now has matching plaques in the Country Music Hall of Fame. While the book on Jackson’s mainstream career is firmly closed (he hasn’t cracked the Top 40 on the radio since 2012), he remain active in the genre, releasing everything from ‘standard’ country albums to gospel collections to bluegrass projects. “The Older I Get” is billed as the leadoff single for Jackson’s next album, and it’s exactly the sort of song you expect from an accomplished veteran of both life and music. Like Trace Adkins’s “Watered Down” last year, this song is an ideal marriage of subject, subject matter, and sound.

The production is probably the most neotraditional mix you’ll hear all year: A quiet acoustic guitar carries the melody, a pair of fiddles bookend the track with a solid intro and outro, a steel guitar and piano provide appropriate accents, a classical-sounding electric guitar provides a spacious background (it also joins forces with the fiddle for a relaxed bridge solo), and the whole thing is backed by a (real) percussion line that is so restrained that it’s barely noticeable. The lack of energy here is by design, as the mix uses bright tones and a slower tempo to create a warm, peaceful atmosphere that goes down smooth and helps focus the listener’s attention on the writing (which, thankfully, is strong enough to be worth ruminating on). It’s the sort of sound that really stands out in the current radio climate (or at least it would stand out, if anyone actually played it), and it’s an absolute joy to listen to.

Admittedly, Jackson isn’t quite the singer he was during his heyday: His delivery is a bit rougher in spots, and his range is a bit narrower than it used to be. However, while you might notice a difference from early-career Jackson when he starts to sing now, it disappears as the track goes on, and by the end, you’d swear this performance was from his turn-of-the-millenium peak. Jackson at 90% of his peak sounds better than 90% of current artists, as he remains one of the most earnest, authentic-sounding singers in the history of the genre. Few people can own a leading role like Jackson does, and the fact that the song fits his current life situation so well (an older artist enumerating the wisdom he’s gained) only amplifies his believability. In short, the man’s in the Hall of Fame for a reason.

Lyrically, the song takes a more forward-looking stance on aging that its peers. Rather than looking back on his past missteps like Adkins does (or declaring that we need to return to an earlier way of life as Blake Shelton does in “I Lived It”), the song revels in the lessons the narrator has learned and looks forward to the next phase of their life. (It’s a wise decision, as Jackson’s life has been much less tumultuous than Adkins’s, and thus he doesn’t have too many negative experiences to dwell on.) The nuggets of wisdom themselves aren’t exactly groundbreaking (live in the moment, love is true wealth, etc.), but the singer’s optimism and conviction are surprisingly refreshing from this sort of song. The most striking moment is when Jackson declares “If they found a fountain of youth/I wouldn’t drink a drop” and the he thinks “I’m just getting to my best years yet,” indicating that he values his experience and perspective so much that even in the midst of a youth-obsessed culture like ours, he wouldn’t trade them for anything. Saying it and meaning it are two different things, of course, but when the words are buttressed by bright percussion and Jackson’s effusive charm, you can’t help but believe them.

Overall, “The Older I Get” is a simple, straightforward song that’s about as well-constructed as it could have been. The production is classic and enjoyable, the lyrics are thoughtful and heartfelt, and Jackson remains Alan freaking Jackson. Radio will ignore it and many listeners will never know this thing existed, but it’s a reminder of how powerful country music can be, even without its modern-day trappings. I awarded Adkins a perfect score last year, and this track is equally deserving.

Rating: 10/10. It’s already won ‘Song of the Year’ once, and it’s poised to contend for that title again.

2 thoughts on “Song Review: Alan Jackson, “The Older I Get”

  1. Hey! Thanks for the shoutout, sir! I think if any song is destined to be a 10, it’s this. I’m kicking myself though for including it on last year’s list when it should be on this year’s list. Oh well, those add dates are tricky beings sometimes.

    Btw, completely agree with the Walker McGuire and Blake Shelton reviews. Both artists (er…acts I guess considering Walker McGuire is a duo) are capable of so much more.

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  2. I really liked this Alan Jackson song, too. For some odd reason, I got a broken link when I added it to a YouTube playlist last year. If his people don’t want to allow people to include it on playlists, then they deserve the lack of attention that this good song received.

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