Lyndsey Parker, Yahoo Music | Not long ago, Alan Jackson, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, was at a crossroads both personally and professionally. In 2017, the Grand Ole Opry member, 17-time ACM Award-winner, and 16-time CMA Award-winner lost his beloved mother, Ruth Musick Jackson, and then in 2018, his son-in-law, Ben Selecman, died at age 28 after suffering severe head injuries in a boating accident. In the past, tragedy had inspired some of Jackson’s most iconic songs, like the 9/11 ballad “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”; “When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey),” a song he wrote for his wife of 42 years, Denise, when she was diagnosed with cancer; and “Drive (For Daddy Gene),” an ode to his late father. But after the double-whammy losses of his mother and son-in-law, Jackson put plans for next album on indefinite hold, and the recordings were shelved. Two years would pass before Jackson wanted to even try making music again.
“It took a couple of years to get through all that. I just didn’t feel like writing,” Jackson tells Yahoo Entertainment. “When you’re the daddy and you kind of feel like you’re the head man, and you’ve got your wife and your daughters and everybody, you really hurt more for them going through it. It just took a long time for me to feel good again, to feel like I actually wanted to sit down and try to write something.”
Now, after a six-year recording hiatus, Jackson returns this week with Where Have You Gone. Continuing the tradition of Jackson’s heart-on-sleeve heroes like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and George Jones, the album features one poignant track, “Where Her Heart Has Always Been (Written for Mama’s funeral with an old recording of her reading from The Bible),” that includes an archival voice recording of Jackson’s dear “Mama Ruth” reading Scripture. Another, “You’ll Always Be My Baby,” was written for his daughter Mattie’s wedding, which took place less than a year before her groom Selecman’s death. But the album, which is filled with old-school instrumentation like fiddle and steel guitar, also includes upbeat anthems like “Beer:10,” and “Livin’ on Empty.” And its title is not a reference to personal tragedies, but a wistful commentary on a bygone classic country music era that neotraditionalist Jackson describes as a “lost love.”
Yahoo Entertainment: I know you’re not doing too many interviews, so thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I also know how significant Where Have You Gone is for you, because obviously it has been six years since the last album, and this album is so personal. What made this the right time to return to recording?
Alan Jackson: Well, I didn’t delay it on purpose. We just had a few setbacks there in the last few years, in my personal life. It kind of slowed things down for a couple of years. And then by the time I got ready to get in the studio last spring, the coronavirus really shut everything down again. So it wasn’t till late in the fall [that we recorded the album]. But I knew it had been quite a few years, and I finally felt like I was ready to try to write again and get it done.
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