LOWELL — Alan Jackson remains country’s cool customer, sticking to his honky-tonk roots while still managing to make his presence felt among the younger cabana-country crowd.
Jackson played for nearly two hours Friday at the Tsongas Center, which was barely enough time to scratch the surface of his catalog of hits. Still, it was better hearing Jackson unleash his fiery band, the Strayhorns, through fully fleshed-out hoedowns versus having him compress the hits into strings of medleys. Jackson did edit some tunes, but let the Strayhorns’ guitars, fiddle, and keys fly on a variety of material spanning the rock ’n’ roll rave up “Summertime Blues” to the melancholy tones of “The Blues Man.”
Even though Jackson began his rise up the country ranks in the 1990s, he is more like a classic artist, spreading his songs across a spectrum of sounds and moods all connected by down-home sensibilities. When Jackson played “Livin’ on Love” and “Small Town Southern Man,” he let the show mellow to quiet, tender interludes, something you rarely find at contemporary country spectacles, which abhor silence the way nature abhors a vacuum.
And his romps through “I Don’t Even Know Your Name,” “Chattahoochee,” and “Gone Country” played the old country trick of sounding wholesome while still raising a little hell.
But showing that he’s not an oldies act, Jackson tossed in “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” his duet with Jimmy Buffett that became part of country’s ongoing fascination with beach life, and “As She’s Walking Away,” the hit collaboration with current standard-bearer Zac Brown.
“As She’s Walking Away” came during a segment you could call stools, stories, and snippets, during which Jackson and his band sat at the front of the stage while the singer shared tales about his career and song inspirations. He both reached back to his first hit “Here in the Real World” and brought the show up to his latest album “Thirty Miles West” with “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore.”
Jackson sealed the audience’s devotion by broadcasting loads of locally shot video while playing “Where I Come From” and doing an extended autograph session during his encore reading of “Mercury Blues.”
Kristen Kelly opened with a feisty set of tradition-leaning songs, especially relishing in “Ex-Old Man,” one of the paybacks written for her ex-husband. And this back-to-basics country singer also name checked Conway Twitty rather than the Pointer Sisters when she covered “Slowhand.”