Prime Cuts: I Saw the Light, Raising Alabama, Lift Him Up
What's happened to Alabama? Grant they were disbanded from 2006 to 2010, "Angels Among Us: Hymns and Gospel Favorites" is only their third studio full-length album since 2001's "When It All Goes South." Three studio albums in 13 years is nakedly sparse compared to their 80s and 90s heydays when they would churn out one album after another in the matter of months. And all three records since their ill-fated prophetically titled "When It All Goes South" are Christian Gospel records. But the problem is not that they have crossed over from country music to the inspirational genre. Rather, what is most jarring is that all three efforts contain a high percentage of covers that tither on the over-played side. What has happened to the band who stood for the industrious blue collars of America? The band that gave us career defining anthems such as "Jukebox in My Mind," "Roll On (18 Wheeler)," "Tennessee River" and "Reckless." The band that invincibly charted with one hit single after another enjoying a prodigious ride at the pinnacle of the charts since 1977?
In this regard, one is greeted with a tad of disappointment knowing that "Angels Among Us" is yet another covers album with only two originals. This record follows in the footsteps of Alabama's final two RCA Records albums "Songs of Inspirations" and "Songs of Inspirations II." Since both albums lodged in at #1 on the Billboard Christian Album chart with the first instalment even being a #1 Country Album resident, good tidings thus await this latest release. However, one can't express one's disappointment with the track listing enough. With such a vast and extensive canon of church hymns to choose from, do we really need another version of "I'll Fly Away," "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and "The Old Rugged Cross?" And to add fuel to one's combustible frustration, other than Randy Owens' rich vocals, there's nothing innovative about these renditions that would set aflame our desire to hear them again and again.
The album's redeeming value is in the two new originals. Both of them are indispensable. "Raising Alabama," written by the trio with Charles English, was written in response of the tornado that devastated the state of Alabama in 2011. With that majestic beauty that calls to mind some of Alabama's impeccable ballads of yore such as "Forever as Far as I'll Go" or "Lady Down on Love," "Raising Alabama" is the type of songs that make Alabama such a household name. Carefully detailing how God enabled the people to work together to rebuild the lives shattered by the catastrophe, this song reminds us again of the beauty of love. "Lift Me Up," written by Teddy Gentry, Dillon Dixon and Charles English, bears the marks of a 90s county ballad where it is a fashioned as a prayer to God that is heart-felt and assuring.
As an added bonus, the trio has thrown in a live version of their 1993 Christmas staple "Angels Among Us." One would have wished they have had picked a better live version--- Owen's sped up delivery of the verses, the yelling at the crowd, and the wolf whistles from the fans--- just simply butchered the song's reverent message that we are not alone in our darkest times. Among the covers, their version of Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light" works well with its Jerry Lee Lewis' piano lilt and its Texas swing flair. Nevertheless, without having a proper studio album in ages, one would expect more from Alabama other than re-cycling through over-familiar hymns for the third time in a row.