Alan Jackson / Mark Insley / Hadacol 

Drive (Arista Nashville) / Tucson (Rustic) / All in Your Head (Slewfoot)

Now that there are no more commercial country stations in San Francisco (yup, that's right, pardner...) you aren't very likely to hear Alan Jackson's latest opus piping out of the radio anywhere anytime soon. That's a real shame, since, like almost everything else he's done, it's a really nice record. The album's centerpiece is his September 11 tribute, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," which is topping the country charts nationwide, although you'd never know it in our Bay Area bubble. The song poses the destruction of the World Trade Center in personal terms -- as an historically transcendent, defining event along the lines of the assassinations of President Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. Do you remember where you were when it happened, how it felt, or what you did after you heard? Jackson says the song came to him during a long, sleepless night, and that's exactly what it sounds like. With haunting, probing, soulful vulnerability, Jackson briefly lapses into Christian sloganeering, yet speaks to the American mind in a way that countless dozens of blustering, chest-puffing patriotic 9/11 songs do not. The rest of the album is equally solid; Jackson still manages to walk the fine line between the shamelessly crafted sentimentality of modern Nashville country and the throaty-voiced traditionalism that he champions, nailing each song with an emotional richness that his slick, high-tech hillbilly brethren had left behind years ago.

Ironically, with the profusion of alt-y "Americana" programming on various Bay Area college and community stations, you're far more likely to hear LA songsmith Mark Insley's magnificently understated "Did I Wake You?" -- a slow and unsettling ballad wherein an estranged and inebriated lost lover calls his ex late at night to ask how things are in the new town, and wonders aloud if he heard another man murmuring in the background. Another good candidate is the Missouri twangcore outfit, Hadacol, who may renew your faith in the power of strong, uncomplicated, catchy hooks and rambunctious, barreling, powerhouse honky-tonk melodies. The Nashville mainstream may have dried up here in the Bay Area, but the sidestreams and rivulets of still provide plenty of rural yearnings to slake our big-city thirst.


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