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ALAN JACKSON, IN A MOST TRADITIONAL WAY

While Nashville is out to prove that H. L. Mencken was right ("Nobody ever lost money underestimating the taste of the American public"), Alan Jackson, sells millions of traditional country records filled with pedal steel, fiddle and twangin' guitars.

Whether the pop/rock audience is moving toward country or the country audience is shifting toward the blues 'n' boogie tastes of the Billboard charts is irrelevant. The result is the same -- traditional country artists are selling out.

Alan Jackson is one of the few remaining new traditionalists who sing about honky-tonks and heartaches in the best George Jones tradition. George Straight, Dwight Yoakam and Clint Black (pre-Lisa Hartman) appear to be missing in action.

Jackson might seem too traditional for country listeners raised on arena rock who would rather boogie to the pop sounds of new country stars like John Michael Montgomery, Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes, Tim McGraw or Shania Twain.

Not so! Country audiences love the unassuming singer/songwriter from Georgia who remains true to the spirit of Hank Williams and George Jones

It was no coincidence that the killer song of his 90-minute set was the moody "Midnight in Montgomery," a song about an imaginary encounter with the ghost of old Bocephus himself. Nashville is missing the boat turning country music into replicant rock. Country music doesn't need arena rockers in cowboy boots and tight jeans thrusting their fists in the air to the pounding of drums and screaming guitars

Opening act Mindy McCready, 21, was a case in point. Despite a strong voice, she seemed most comfortable covering rocker Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."

Her country ballads like "10,000 Angels" or the girls' anthem "Guys Do It All the Time" lacked emotional credibility. She was pleasant but undistinguished.

Jackson, on the other hand, was able to turn his set-opener, "Little Bitty," a lightweight Tom T. Hall original, into an espousal of small-time values and the joys of simplicity. In lesser hands, the frothy chorus would have sounded silly. Jackson gave it dignity and a playful shove.

When he digs into something a little more gritty, like the title song from his new release, "Everything I Love," he makes the act of confession a revelation.

A despondent man must give up the woman he loves and he rationalizes by counting the pleasures he has left, "cigarettes, Jack Daniels and caffeine." Ironically, he notes that each one of them also hurt him and maybe he should give them up as well: "Everything I love is killing me."

Despite being dressed in a sexy, no-sleeve T-shirt, Jackson is one of the few modern country performers who refuses to shake his booty or make overt sexual gestures to pander to female fans.

Whether delivering a soulful ballad like "Living on Love" or a road-house romper like "I'm in Love With You Baby, and I Don't Even Know Your Name," his music is always front and center.

Jackson carefully balanced his honky-tonk rave-ups with poignant heartbreakers. For every "Don't Rock the Juke Box" or "She's Got The Rhythm, I Got The Blues," he featured a tender tale of love lost or a melancholy memory.

"Home," a song about his parents and his early years in Georgia, was as emotionally revealing as teardrop. Pictures of his mom and dad as newlyweds, young marrieds and finally as an elderly couple reinforced the personal nature of the song: "No matter where or how far you roam, there's only one place called home."

"Summertime Blues" owed more to Eddie Cochran's 1950s rockabilly version than either the Who's or Blue Cheer's renditions.

It was obvious that Jackson's five-song acoustic set was the best compass to where his musical heart was located. It featured full harmonies on "Seven Bridges Road," and his version of his first hit, "Here in the Real World," was sweet country without being saccharine.

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