To help celebrate the 40 years since their first summer together as a band, Alabama calls on several Nashville A-listers to take part in a special tribute album commemorating the group’s rich history. With artists as varied as Jason Aldean, Jamey Johnson and Trisha Yearwood all offering their takes on different Alabama classics, Alabama & Friends delivers a deep set spanning the trio’s legendary career.
It all started in the early ’70s when three cousins from Fort Payne, Ala. spent a summer playing at the Myrtle Beach, S.C. hotspot The Bowery. Members Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook probably couldn’t imagine at the time that this was the start of a career that would redefine success as a country trio, but their unique blend of traditional country and southern rock paired with exceptionally tight harmonies was well on its way to worldwide recognition during those barroom summers.
Alabama’s sound holds tight to traditional country concepts but has never been afraid to incorporate nuances from the far reaches of the genre or even pull in elements of others. Alabama & Friends, due in stores August 27, does an excellent job of showcasing the diversity found throughout the group’s catalog. Jason Aldean’s pounding version of the trio’s first-ever No. 1, “Tennessee River,” comes complete with twin guitars and breakneck fiddle, while Kenny Chesney’s laid-back take on “Lady Down On Love” focuses on a slower groove with orchestrated harmonies. Kenny offers one of the album’s best vocals while both he and Jason embody the classic cuts with their own style.
Song choices on the project are exceptional; it’s as if the goal was to pick the one Alabama song that influenced each artist the most. The dramatic balladry of “Old Flame” is a perfect fit for Rascal Flatts. Alabama joins here, as they do on several of the project’s tracks, to collaborate with the featured artists and support with harmonies. Texans Eli Young Band rock distorted 1970s southern rock power chords on “The Closer You Get” and Florida Georgia Line drop an anthem-worthy hook on “I’m In A Hurry (And Don’t Know Why).” However, it’s the lone female contributor, Trisha Yearwood, who delivers one of the record’s most powerful moments. Moving through the rising and falling melodies of “Forever’s As Far As I’ll Go” with heart-filled emotion, Trisha’s gentle vibrato delicately carries the song’s tender vulnerability.
Alabama themselves deliver two new songs on the project. Reuniting with producer Harold Shedd, who was at the helm during many of the group’s early sessions, the traditional-leaning “That’s How I Was Raised” and the social statement “All American” are cut from the classic Alabama cloth. Both songs sing of strength while rich harmonies and time-honored melodies flow.
A fun set with an excellent cast, Alabama & Friends reveals a glimpse of just how important the group’s iconic work is to the artists that followed them. Luke Bryan’s urgent rendition of “Love In The First Degree,” Toby Keith’s unchained “She And I” and Jamey Johnson’s uber-traditional “My Home’s In Alabama” are all dramatically different songs sung by incredibly different singers. However, the passion each artist brings to their performance is easily heard and just might offer the greatest tribute of all; that Alabama’s music worked to influence an entire generation of artists no matter what style of country music they play.