Alan Jackson is a man of few words and little outward emotion, but the country icon admits that he "about teared up" when he first heard the rough mix of "A Man Who Never Cries," one of the songs on his new album, Where Have You Gone.

Jackson was in his truck when his producer, Keith Steagall, sent him the rough mix, so he took a listen right then and there.

“It was just me singing with the players,” Jackson tells Billboard in a recent interview. “I was driving in my truck down River Road and, man, I about teared up. I thought I’d have to pull the truck over. I was just so proud, and it just felt so good to hear the guys playing on there and just killing it.”

Jackson released Where Have You Gone on May 14, marking his first full-length project since Angels & Alcohol in 2015. While country music has gotten more and more progressive during that period of time, Jackson not only remains true to his hardcore country roots; if anything, he takes his sound in an even more insistently traditional direction on the new album.

Jackson drew from some of the most respected players in Nashville's studio scene for the new material, including steel guitar legend Paul Franklin, guitarist Brent Mason, drummer Eddie Bayers, fiddle player Stuart Duncan, keyboardist Gary Primm, dobro player Scotty Sanders and the late JT Corenflos, who provided electric guitars.

Since the sessions took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jackson laughingly says the musicians were a "sad-looking bunch" while performing their parts in masks.

“But when they started playing, those guys played some of the best stuff that I’ve heard in a long time," he continues. "I think they were happy to play some real country music. They kept telling me: 'Thanks so much for letting me play on this song or that song.'”

Jackson is circumspect about the chances for his current music to replicate the kind of commercial success he's had in the past, since artists in his age bracket don't usually get radio's attention.

"But you know what? I don’t care," he reflects to Billboard. "I’m not bitter about it. I’m 62 years old. I know it’s time and that’s just the way it is. I’ve had more hits than just about anybody, and I can’t ask [for] anything more.”

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