Alan Jackson is one of country music’s biggest superstars. Recently he released a CD of religious music that has just gone platinum. Precious Memories (Arista/Sony; 2006) contains 15 traditional gospel hymns, including “Blessed Assurance,” “Softly and Tenderly” and “How Great Thou Art.” The CD was originally recorded privately as a Christmas gift for Jackson’s mother. It’s his first gospel album.
Precious Memories is a nominee for album of the year at the 40th annual Country Music Association awards, which takes place Nov. 6 (to be broadcast by ABC). Jackson is also a nominee for male vocalist of the year, an honor he has won twice.
The album’s selections are probably familiar to older adults but not necessarily to young people. I heard my grandfather, born in Mississippi in the early 20th century, sing and hum some of them as he went about his daily routine.
Jackson’s arrangements provide a wonderful way to encounter this music. They are extremely simple, with just piano, organ and acoustic guitar. They feature Jackson’s solos and a few backup singers.
The harmonies here are pure country. There is no effort to “modernize” the presentation. The hymns display influences such as folk music and camp-meeting hymnody of the early 1800s. Jackson is known as a neoclassicist in country music. His recordings generally evoke the genre’s early roots and display relatively little evidence of rock and pop.
The hymns’ themes are predominantly a longing for God (“When We All Get to Heaven,” “I’ll Fly Away”) and an affirmation that Jesus is present in our daily lives (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Blessed Assurance”).
Whether or not Precious Memories wins the big award, Jackson has made an important contribution to country music.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers