Relax. Alabama’s latest album isn’t the best thing the band has done to date. Even if it’s great to still have this band around more than 30 years after its commercial breakthrough, it’s hard to embrace Southern Drawl as a whole. To say that it’s a mixed bag is being kind but saying that it’s an out-and-out failure doesn’t feel right either. There are some good songs here, some forgettable ones and some that should have been left on the cocktail napkins where they were first scrawled.
Let’s start there with the opening, titular track which is a celebration of all the cliché things you’re supposed to like coming from the South: chewing tobacco, drinking whiskey, hunting, fishing, and saying “m’am”—oh, and loving guns. But the whole of America—or many places in Midwest and Great Lakes region have liked all those same things for some time now and whereas celebrating these quirks was probably cool and rebellious in 1975, 40 years on it seems more worn than Travis Tritt’s favorite jeans.
The same might be said for “Hillbilly Wins the Lotto”, a song that is as weak—if not more so—than its title. The point? You can’t trust friends you make after you make a million. Or even two million. But that’s not exclusive to hillbillies or country bands from the South and so it feels like maybe another tune that was best left alone rather than worked up and committed to media that will see this turkey of an idea endure beyond the five half seconds it may have deserved. (See a theme developing here?)
“It’s About Time” is half-baked hippie droning than could have been cool as a deep cut on a lesser Ten Years After side but is just painful here. “American Farmer” is as outdated as its U2-esque beats and guitar lines and actually pales in comparison to anything heard on the Team America: World Police soundtrack. It’s not because it’s not cool to love farmers—it is and always has been—but just because you love something or someone doesn’t mean that the art that comes from it will succeed. (See also: This writer’s college notebooks.)
But love is a subject that Alabama has always excelled and even if there isn’t an “Old Flame” or “I Want to Know You Before We Make Love”, there are at least a few attempts at some listenable fare that will do in a pinch. “Wasn’t Through Lovin’ You Yet” finds the group sounding tentative while also trying to sound contemporary and the result is a song that could have been much cooler if only the performers could sell it just a little more. But “As Long As There’s Love” crosses the finish line with modest success because no one’s trying harder than they need to, never trying to stretch themselves beyond 1985 and “Come Find Me”, as much as it sounds like Bread, is really a decent tune that it would be hard to hate even if it slid into the messy time deafness many of the other songs suffer from. (Thankfully, it doesn’t. It’s exactly where it needs to be and will be there in the future when we need it too.)
It’s a shame that the softest moments are the best—especially considering the group’s early hard-rockin’ edges but “Footstompin’ Music” (“Shakin’/bakin’” rhyme don’t they? What the hell! Let’s throw them ‘em into a song!) is as dreadful as any of the other up tempo numbers though sadly not as forgettable as one might like it to be—it’s the kind of thing you have to revisit at least twice just to make sure what you’re hearing is correct. Let us never forget: The bad writing that men (and women) do lives on and on after them; the good stuff is too often interred in their bones.
In the end, this isn’t the worst thing Alabama could have done. Far from it. Even when it’s half asleep at the wheel Alabama is still better than 90 percent of the country bands that came along in its wake and has easily forgotten more about songwriting and entertaining than most of us will ever know. Problem is that there the band just isn’t living up to its potential.
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