Good Time (Arista)

By Alan Jackson

After a gospel album for his mama (Precious Memories) and a sober collection of smoky love songs (Like Red on a Rose), Alan Jackson recorded Good Time, his return to contemporary country. Jackson alone wrote every song—all 17 of them. If a back-to-basics move is supposed to be a safe one, Jackson has gone about it in a bold way; but even at such a length, there are few weak moments.

The album isn't in a hurry to get anywhere, keeping a buoyant, mid-tempo mood interspersed with honky-tonk, swing, bluegrass, and somber balladry. And Jackson can pull off singing about the declining excitement of intimacy in marriage with a strikingly easy humor ("There ain't nothin' left to do/Now that we've done it"), then directly deliver a sweet, three-minute plea for her to stay that's warm and lean without sounding thin.

In addition to overt genre manipulation, Good Time lacks the heavier vocal emoting from Red on a Rose, defining itself largely by Jackson's fluid hooks and smart, seemingly effortless phrasing. He's perfectly assured in his role of easy-going narrator with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. That gentle command of craft has made Jackson one of the most successful country artists of the last two decades, and Good Time exhibits it in spades.