Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Jackson's music has homey, familiar feel

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Like the song says, Alan Jackson is not a political man. But that song, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," has become a flag-waving centerpiece of the country-music star's otherwise innocuous live performances.

Jackson played the Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University Sunday night, and the show was much like his stop at Riverbend last summer. "Where Were You," the ballad Jackson wrote in reaction to the events of 9-11, was the quiet showstopper then just as it is now. Cigarette lighters blazed and little flashing American-flag pins (10 bucks a pop at the merchandise booth) glowed.

In these days of Dixie Chick divisiveness, country singers feel the need to choose sides regarding American foreign policy, although the anti-Dixie Chicks side is the only one ever chosen. Jackson is too smart to get dragged into the mess. "Where Were You" is reflective, totally different than the war-drum-beating anthems Toby Keith has taken to the bank. It has been politicized not by Jackson but his fans.

In fact, the only political imagery from Jackson's side of the stage came during "Where I Come From." When the song is played in concert, it is customary for the video screens to flicker with shots of local landmarks. Many of the clips this time around were from Wright Patterson Air Force Base, with the last shot focusing tightly on an American flag. However, it must be noted that there were nearly as many shots of waitresses from the local Hooters franchise as there were of Air Force personnel.

Also adding to the local flavor was the introduction of Jackson's longtime keyboard player, Ohioan Monty Parkey, a Xenia native who received huge applause.

The show trotted out the familiar Jackson hit parade: "Gone Country," "Tall Tall Trees," "Living on Love," "Who's Cheating Who," "Don't Rock the Jukebox," "Summertime Blues," "Mercury Blues," and a dozen more.

He may want to strike "Gone Country" from the set. The song, which pokes fun at pop artists-turned-Nashville carpetbaggers, made sense in the '90s when country music was bigger. Jackson had to look no further than the hundreds of empty seats in the arena to see the boom has passed.

Speaking of hopping on and off bandwagons, the only curveball Jackson threw came in the form of a cover song, "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow." Now that Jackson is milking the O Brother bluegrass thing, is there anyone left in Nashville who hasn't?

E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com

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