Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 2: An Alan Jackson Overdose

It’s never a good idea to say “hey, I’m starting a new weekly series!” and then wait several weeks before the second post. When the RNG gods saw me making another series, however, they decided that I must have far too much free time, and buried me under a mountain of bureaucracy and tedium. Thankfully, they didn’t break me (yet), and it’s long past time to dust off the ancient iPad once again, so let’s do this thing!

The concept is simple: Hit the shuffle button, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Is it silly and without purpose? Absolutely (which is why my initial thought was to make this a weekend feature). But hey, it’s a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Also, after today’s series of unfortunate events (mostly meetings and poorly-catered functions), I have three hours left to post something and absolutely no ideas on what to post, so…hey, no time like the present!

Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is. Drum roll please…

The Contenders

Song #1: Blake Shelton, “Cotton Pickin’ Time”

Remember the days when Blake Shelton was actually tolerable? Most of the mileage I got from 2004’s Blake Shelton’s Bar & Grill was from “Some Beach,” but this was a tolerable-enough album cut. I like the sparse-but-springy production, the lighthearted take on the money vs. love debate, and Shelton tag-teams with the writers to keep the song (which prominently features skippy-dipping) from slipping into the gutter. I wouldn’t call it great (and it likely won’t challenge for today’s crown), but I suppose there are worse ways to start off a shuffle.

Song #2: Alan Jackson, “To Do What I Do”

So now we’re a 2004 kick, huh? This was the live album closer for Jackson’s What I Do album, and while I’m not generally a fan of live recordings, I can see why they set it up this way. The song is an autobiographical recap of Jackson’s rise to country music stardom (complete with awful jobs and plentiful doubters), and it expresses his happiness and gratitude that both he and his audience are at the show right now. The song is an exemplar of what made Jackson so great back in the day: Classical fiddle-and-steel production, thoughtful and plain-spoken lyrics, and charisma oozing out of Jackson’s every pore. Like a good cleanup hitter, Jackson is a threat to leave the yard every time he steps up to the mic, so don’t be surprised to find this one in the upper tier when this is over.

Song #3: Acoustic Blue ft. Smokey Greene, “Don’t Tell Mama”

Yes Virginia, there is such a thing as New England Bluegrass. Acoustic Blue was (and I think still is, although this current iteration has dissolved) a Massachusetts-based band that was a beloved fixture on the local bluegrass circuit, and in 2009 they included this particular track on their This Is Now album. It’s been performed by a number of artists over the years (Gary Allan, Frankie Ballard, etc.), telling the tale of a young man who dies in a alcohol-fueled car accident and who pleads with the narrator “don’t tell mama I was drinking.” While this is a perfectly fine version, and I like how the limited bluegrass arrangement captures the melancholy atmosphere of the moment, I think Allan’s song is the superior one, and as much as people love Smokey Greene around here, I don’t think he acquits himself very well here (his timing and tone are not good at all). It’s still kind of sentimental, but it’s not one of my go-to Acoustic Blue songs.

Song #4: Pam Tillis, “They Don’t Break’em Like They Used To”

Tillis tends to get overlooked when the great ladies of the 1990s are recounted, but she was a pretty consistent hitmaker back in the early to mid 1990s. This song is an album cut from her 1994 disc Sweetheart’s Dance, and while Tillis’s narrator gets a little too smug at times when he lordes her boyfriend over his ex, the affection at least feels genuine and the brisk two-step production keeps folks smiling. (The hook isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is, though.) It’s a solid neotraditional offering, and it what’s shaping up to be a field with no clear front runner, it’s got as good a shot as any.

Song #5: Jackson, “Good Time”

Did I say there wasn’t a front runner? I guess I stand corrected.

Objectively, the title track to Jackson’s 2008 album is basically Bro Country with fiddles and steel guitars, complete with shallow lyrics, shameless name-dropping, and of course a lot of alcohol. So why is this so much fun? For one thing, those fiddle and steel guitars do a lot to keep the mood light and out of your face (no beats or loud electric guitars hitting you with a wall of noise, making it more of a line-dance than a rave tune), and Jackson is so dang charismatic that he never comes across as creepy or meatheaded. This is exactly what you’d expect a Friday night at your local beer joint to sound like, and Jackson lords over it all with his winning personality. Putting this back-to-back really got the party going, and I’m curious to see who comes to challenge Jackson for the crown.

Song #6: Marty Stuart, “Wait For The Morning”

Well, if someone had to kill the buzz, at least it’s country music’s resident historian. Marty Stuart never had a #1 single on the radio, but he’s enjoyed a resurgence in his second act at a throwback stylist, and his 2017 concept album Way Out West was an excellent tribute to the classic West Coast sound. “Wait For The Morning” was a thinly-veiled gospel tune near the end of the disc, and its minimalist aesthetic and uplifting vibe speak to an optimism that someday the narrator and their audience will reach the fabled promised land. While I didn’t share this optimism then (and I definitely don’t share it right now), Stuart’s faith is unwavering, and the Fabulous Superlatives live up to their name with a simple-yet-suitable melody to back their band leader. There really isn’t a lot to this track and I see it ending up somewhere in the middle of the pack, but for now, I’ll take it.

Song #7: The Dixie Chicks, “Tonight The Heartache’s On Me”

Frankly, I’m still salty over what happened to the Dixie Chicks back in the early 2000s. These are three talented ladies who had some incredible records, and they got blackballed simply because they called out their commander-in-chief. This song isn’t one of the trio’s biggest hits (it was a fifth single off of their debut album Wide Open Spaces), and there’s a bit of a mismatch between the energetic vibe of the sound and sad cry-in-your-beer subject material, but it’s still catchy as all heck and the harmony work is a joy to listen to. (Plus I love lead singer Natalie Maines’s distinctive vocals, with Miranda Lambert coming close to mimicking it since the group got booted.) The Dixie Chicks may not be on many playlists nowadays, but I happy that they’re still on mine.

Song #8: Jackson, “I’d Love You All Over Again”

It seems Jackson has revealed his evil plan: If he takes up all the remaining slots, then no one can challenge him for the victory! This is a fifth single from Jackson’s debut disc Here In The Real World (and his first #1 to boot), and while it’s a little odd to hear him step into an older, long-tenured narrator at 32 years old, he showed off glimpses of the artists he would soon become: A devotion to classical instrumentation and subject matter, enough charm to melt an iceberg (not that the world needs more help doing that), and a knack for getting to the heart of the matter with his writing. “Good Time” is more of a, well, good time, but this a pretty strong single in its own right. So how many more of these are we going to get today?

Song #9: Sammy Kershaw, “One Day Left To Live”

Oh ho! This just got interesting.

Kershaw was mostly past his expiration date when he dropped this tune as the third single from his 1997 album Labor Of Love, but he remained an underrated singer with a knack for a good ballad (“Yard Sale” is probably my favorite of the bunch), and this one is no exception. Life seems to move even faster now than when this song first dropped, and after one of the busier weeks I’ve had in a while, this is a good reminder to look around and appreciate life while you’ve still got something to appreciate. The production does a nice job establishing a serous atmosphere while staying out of the way of the lyrics, and while Kershaw isn’t Jackson, he was a pretty darn good performer in his day. I think Jackson’s plan has been foiled, because this could definitely challenge for the top spot.

Song #10: The Eagles, “Desperado”

I think this is a fitting way to close things out.

This was the title track for the Eagles’s 1973 album, and despite it never being released as a single, it’s one of the band’s signature songs and made their first greatest hits album (which is how is made it to my iPad). The song describes a solitary man who seems to be endlessly working and striving for something, and the narrator suggests that they settle down and find someone to love (gee, where have I heard that before, Mom). The production does a nice job starting small and building to a climax near the end, Don Henley fills the role of the concerned friend/comrade nicely (he never feels like he’s nagging the other person, although it doesn’t seem like the “desperado” is listening either), and the lyrics do a nice job painting a picture of a driven soul oblivious to their surroundings. I don’t know if it’s a winning song, but it’s definitely a Top 5 track.

The Results

1 “One Night Left To Live”
2 “Good Time”
3 “Desperado”
4 “Tonight The Heartache’s On Me”
5 “I’d Love You All Over Again”
6 “They Don’t Break’em Like They Used To”
7 “Wait For The Morning”
8 “Don’t Tell Mama”
9 “To Do What I Do”
10 “Cotton Pickin’ Time”

This are two major takeaways here:

  • This was a pretty strong group overall: I said “don’t be surprised to find [“To Do What I Do”] in the upper tier when this is over,” and it ended up ninth! There were a lot of good songs that deserved to win here, but for my money, Kershaw takes the cake tonight.
  • I’m kind of surprised how uniform this group is: Acoustic Blue is bluegrass and The Eagles are, er, The Eagles, but the sound was mostly concentrated in 90s neotraditionalism. (In fact, looking out to the next ten songs on the playlist, the only deviations from this theme would have been Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some Of That” and the theme song from Madden 2002.) My library is a bit more eclectic that this snapshot reveals, but I can’t complain with what I got.

So what do folks think? Are my ratings on point or off the mark? Is there anything here you hadn’t heard in a while? Let me know in the comments section below!