Country traditionalist Alan Jackson may always be a bridesmaid and never a bride at the Country Music Association awards (so far, he has scored only with a video), but that says more about the CMA membership than it does about Jackson's artistry. His first two albums spawned nine No. 1 singles, and now A Lot About Livin' (And a Little 'Bout Love) is certain to bring him up to at least a baker's dozen. But Jackson, who wrote or cowrote 7 of his 10 new songs, is more than just a hit maker he's the most creatively consistent honky-tonker of the new breed, and the most authentically retro in attitude, instrumentation, and tradition.
Where so many of today's Nashville classicists merely tack on allusions to George Jones, Buck Owens, and Johnny Horton, Jackson long ago wove them into the very fabric of his music. So when you hear Jones' melodramatic irony in ''Tonight I Climbed the Wall,'' or Owens' loopiness in ''Up to My Ears in Tears,'' or Horton's loping lyric style and beat in the joyful ''Chattahoochee,'' Jackson isn't scavenging from these masters but taking his rightful place beside them.
More than merely hook-filled and tuneful, Jackson's songs crackle with succinct character sketches and vibrant language, whether capturing the insouciance of a lad who settles for ''a burger and a grape sno-cone'' instead of sex in the Chevy, or the despair of the romantic loser who's ''Lord and Master/of a fool's Taj Mahal.'' Jackson's supple baritone may lack the distinctive tonal quality to be immediately recognizable, but with songs this good, you'll surely remember who sang them. A