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LOS ANGELES -- Alan Jackson has his own version of the 1 percent vs. 99 percent problem, and he has to contend with it every night he's on tour.
"The problem with me is, I've had 60-something singles," said the lanky country singer and songwriter last week from his home outside Nashville. Jackson, 53, was gearing up for a West Coast swing. "It's gotten to be that there are so many songs and there's always something some of the people really want to hear and we can't always play everything. It always ends up I leave something out that somebody wanted to hear, and I feel bad."
It's a problem that maybe 1 percent of working musicians face -- perhaps more like one-tenth of 1 percent -- and a problem most would give their eye teeth to have. In fact, Jackson has charted closer to 70 singles over more than two decades, about 50 of those having reached the Top 10. He could easily string together a generous concert set of two dozen songs if he only included his No. 1 hits, dating back to his first, "I'd Love You All Over Again" in 1991, through his latest, "As She's Walking Away" in 2010, on which he duetted with the Zac Brown Band.
And then there's songs off his latest album, "Thirty Miles West."
"I do a couple," he said. "I do [the recent single] 'So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore' and sometimes we do 'Dixie Highway,' " a collaboration with Zac Brown that's on the album. "But if I replace one of the hits with something they haven't heard, sometimes that doesn't work as well. I hardly have time to mix it up much. I make my set list up every night right before the show, and it depends on where I'm playing, what I feel like, and I do like to change it up somewhat."
"Thirty Miles West," a reference to the distance between his hometown of Newnan, Ga., and the fabled Dixie Highway that runs through the South, is his first album since leaving the Arista Nashville Records family he'd been with since starting with the label in the late '80s. And it's the first under a new deal he's struck between his own label ACR (which stands for Alan's Country Records) and EMI.
Yet it doesn't sound drastically different from most of what he's put out throughout his career, heavy on traditional country themes and sounds, from the spry reincarnation-themed opening track "Going to Come Back as a Country Song" to the high-road approach to a breakup in "So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore."
After 14 studio albums, not including his two holiday collections, Jackson says, "I don't know that there's anything too bizarre I could stretch out and do" at this point in his career.
But he's still hankering to record a straight bluegrass album -- a project he started about six years ago with bluegrass queen Alison Krauss producing, but which morphed into a critically acclaimed atmospheric adult country album, "Like Red on a Rose."