Review - All Jacked Up by Gretchen Wilson
Nearly all of the elements that made Here for the Party such a tremendous success are here: co-producer and co-songwriter John Rich, great vocals, truthful lyrics and edginess. What's missing is one thing: risk.
Gretchen Wilson claimed that her second CD was even better than her first. I agree that it is much more polished. The songs are highly professional and highly creative. However, they are a bit safer than her first effort. I think specifically of the rap breakdown in the middle of "Chariot" on Here for the Party. "Chariot" is an incredible song on its own without the rap section, but with the rap section, it transcends all musical genre classifications and becomes a truly risky musical experiment. This is what is missing on All Jacked Up.
I have played the All Jacked Up CD nearly a dozen times trying to find something I do not like about it. I have yet to find anything. That could very well be the CD's greatest downfall. There is nothing here that jumps out and makes the listener take notice. "Redneck Woman" gets in your face and says, "this is who I am, take me or leave me." While All Jacked Up retains much of this edge, it is far more reflective, humble and calculated to please the fans of Here for the Party and to attract new fans of similar bent. I know teenage boys who sing "Redneck Woman" at the top of their lungs when it comes on the radio. They will probably do the same with "All Jacked Up" and "Rebel Child," two of the best cuts on the CD.
As the first single off the CD, "All Jacked Up" whetted our appetite for another "Redneck Woman." This is a real musical shockwave, carrying on the tradition of Gretchen Wilson as the bad girl of country music. However, it is the only song of its kind on the CD. This was a great marketing device and probably the reason that All Jacked Up sold over 260,000 copies on its first day of release making it the biggest first day of any CD in 2005.
"California Girls" carries on the ancient poetic tradition of responding to another poet's work with a refutation or rebuttal of one's own. The Beach Boys wished "they all could be California girls" and Gretchen asks the musical question, "aren't you glad we aren't all California girls?" I'm with Gretchen on this one. I would rather be in New Orleans where you give a girl fake beads so she will show you her real breasts, than in Los Angeles where you give a girl real jewels so she will show you her fake breasts. Fake perfect bodies usually mask fake real personalities. Gretchen continues to be true to her reality here.
With "Full Time Job," Gretchen pays homage to the world's truly desperate housewives. This song is an anthem for the real women who toil and give of themselves daily, sacrificing all desires of fame and fortune for home and hearth. I recently lost my father-in-law and spent a few days doing my wife's work around the house while she helped her mother with arrangements. It is exhausting work, men. Remember that on your next anniversary.
I read that on a recent tour stop, Gretchen nearly had to go to court over holding up a Skoal canister and projecting it on the video screens at the end of performing "Skoal Ring." It seems that she might have been running afoul of the laws against "promoting tobacco use by minors" by doing this. Gretchen gave into the pressure and discontinued this part of her act. Come on now, people! Have we gone totally insane? I thought drinking, smoking, cheating and truck driving were country clichés! Holding up a Skoal canister at the end of the song is no more promoting than simply performing the song is in itself! Let us stop over-interpreting laws.
"He Ain't Even Cold Yet," "One Bud Wiser" and "I Don't Feel Like Loving You Today" form a trio of great traditionally themed country songs. "Cold" is a catty observation of how quickly one woman replaces her lover with another one, saying that "he ain't even cold yet" and "it would break his already broken heart" if he saw her dancing before the headstone was put in. "Bud" is one of those neat songs that twists words around and plays on meaning.
"I Don't Feel Like Loving You Today" was the perfect second single from the CD, although perhaps a bit too perfect. It is as if the label wished to recreate the lightning bolt that was "Redneck Woman," "Here for the Party" and "When I Think About Cheating." It worked. "I Don't Feel Like Loving You Today" places Gretchen Wilson firmly in league the great women of country like Loretta Lynne, Lynn Anderson and Tammy Wynette.
I enjoyed hearing Merle Haggard doing his duet here with Gretchen. I think it is great for any genre of music for the greats of the past to work with the newcomers and to show their support in this manner. However, "Politically Uncorrect" borders on the jingoistic. I think it is unrealistic to say that they are one of the many who are not being heard. Don't be absurd. This extreme right wing attitude is all that we have heard for six years. Please do not lament the "Political Uncorrectness" of a conservative attitude that is strictly de rigueur. There may very well have been a conservative silent majority being overshadowed by a very vocal liberal minority when Merle sang "Okee From Muskogee," but I hardly think that is the case today. Quite the contrary, in fact.
"Rebel Child" is the only other song on the CD besides "All Jacked Up" that I can see teenage boys singing out loud like "Redneck Woman." I am of two opinions on this song. It has the power and strength of "Chariot" without the risk of a rap break or any other musical genre intrusion. I would have liked something like a rap break. I am also glad that it does not contain a rap break. With one, this song would spin the CD into the realm of formulaic, which the CD runs the risk of doing.
"Raining on Me" and "Not Bad for a Bartender" make for a nice pair of closers. We are drawn back into Gretchen's roots, history and reality with a pair of bittersweet lamentations and ironic looks at the past. The bonus track on this CD is a neat little blues lounge song that puts one in the mood of a smoke-filled speakeasy in the 1920s listening to Lena Horne over a scratchy tube amplified sound system.
It is wonderful to see Gretchen exerting so much control over the product as producer and co-writer. She has a wealth of life experience to mine for more new material and I look forward to an even better third CD. Now that All Jacked Up has taken the safe route, I hope that the third CD will take a few more risks and go where even Here for the Party did not go.
*** ¾ out of *****