Alan Jackson starts off this steel-soaked ballad as if he's lamenting his lover walking out on him.
It's been way too long since you slipped away
I just can't forget, I can't pretend it's OK
But by the time we get to the chorus, it becomes clear Jackson is singing about something different; he's mourning the way modern country music has supplanted the traditional Nashville sound.
Sounds from the soul, fiddle I need you
Sweet country music where have you gone?
Jackson told Apple Music he wrote the song "as though it were a woman that had left you." As it plays, the first thing the listener thinks is, "Oh, here's another heartbreak song." Then they reach the chorus "and it kind of flips a switch there."
This is the title song of Alan Jackson's 21st album. It finds the Nashville star leaning into his traditional country roots, calling on fiddler Stuart Duncan and steel guitarist Paul Franklin to accompany him. Jackson described the record as "harder country" than his previous projects. "Real country songs are life and love and heartache," Jackson said. "They're drinking, singing about Mama and having a good time, sad things, fun things."
He added regarding the album, "It reflects the sounds of the instruments I grew up on, steel and acoustic guitar, the fiddle and the way they all came together. It gave you a sound, but also a real feeling or emotions no other music really had."
Jackson linked up with long-term producer Keith Stegall for Where Have You Gone. Stegall has produced every Jackson album except 2006's Like Red on a Rose.
Peter Zavadil directed the song's somber music video, filming it in black-and-white at the Ryman Auditorium. At first Jackson is alone on stage surrounded by instruments – a fiddle, steel guitar, banjo, upright bass, acoustic guitar, simple drums – all just waiting to be played. As the song unfolds, Jackson is joined by memories of some of the country legends that have stood there before him: Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Hank Williams and Tammy Wynette.
"This is Alan's idea … capturing all of this incredible history that's happened here," Zavadil said. "The goal was to make the Ryman as much of a character in this as Alan is the artist onstage. This is a magical place."