Welcome to The Singles Bar, a review series focused on new single and song releases.
Alan Jackson defined my childhood. “Here in the Real World” was a musical pillar left unscathed amidst the devastation crumbling down around me. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was seated at one end of my family’s scruffy, plaid sofa. Tears were streaming down my face. I couldn’t have been older than four or five. I could see my father reaching high over his head to retrieve a suitcase from the walk-in closet. He quickly tossed some clothes into the skinny, sky-blue handbag. He knelt before me to tell me things would be alright. My mom waited outside, blue and red police lights twirling in the night sky. We were going for a little trip, she said. That night, we spent curled up in one of many beds lining the local women’s shelter. “Here in the real world, it’s not that easy at all / ‘Cause when hearts get broken, it’s real tears that fall,” Jackson lamented over slick guitar. That moment is frozen in my memory. Sometimes, I feel stuck there. Other times, it slips further and further away.
Songs are like souvenirs. We attach emotional weight to a singer’s ability to illustrate life’s most pivotal moments in three or four minutes, often leaving us scarred by them, too. They can come in flashes and when we least expect it. Jackson is one of those rugged-voiced craftsman who can cut right to the truth. Since entering my 30s, I’ve struggled to understand the meaning of life and growing older. And then, here comes “The Older I Get,” the first taste of Jackson’s forthcoming new album (tentatively expected in 2018), to rip my heart out all over again ⎯⎯ and make me realize that all I really want in life is what I already have. “The older I get, the more I think you only get a minute / Better live while you’re in it / ‘Cause it’s gone in a blink,” he sings, reflecting upon life’s break-neck speed and how he has begun to process it.
“And the older I get, the truer it is / It’s the people you love, not the money and stuff that makes you rich,” he urges. The song, written by Adam Wright (Jackson’s nephew), Hailey Whitters (Martina McBride, Little Big Town) and Sarah Allison Turner (Tyler Farr), is road weary, depicting “how I feel these days,” Jackson says. “The message was a little different when I first heard it. I thought maybe it could be a little more positive about being older and wiser and more content.”
Jackson carries his pain and heartache, his joy and comfort, the good times and bad, on his sleeve. “The older I get, the more thankful I feel for the life I’ve had / And all the life I’m living still,” he sings. There is so much sorrow that can come with age, but he reminds the listener, life is as sweet as you make it. It’s a tough pill to swallow, and one we all must take sooner or later. As with much of his work, Jackson’s voice ⎯⎯ which begins to crack with raw emotion on the last few repetitions of the chorus ⎯⎯ is grounded in simplicity, leading the arrangement of fiddle, guitar and pitter-patter drums to be as comforting as it is moving.
Warning: You should grab a box of tissues.
Grade: 4.5 out of 5