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Alabama & Friends ()

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As the most popular band in country music history, Alabama never went away, not even after they faded into retirement in the new millennium. Nevertheless, Brad Paisley's rousing 2011 salute "Old Alabama" ignited new interest in the band, and Alabama capitalized on their revival by assembling the 2013 album Alabama & Friends. An officially endorsed tribute album capped off with two new songs by the band, Alabama & Friends emphasizes the group's unabashed pop side and, in doing so, it illustrates how they were undoubtedly the forefathers of such sweet suburban country guys as Luke Bryan, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney, and Florida Georgia Line. All four are here doing respectable versions of hits -- "Love in the First Degree," "Old Flame," "Lady Down on Love," "I'm in a Hurry (And Don't Know Why)," respectively -- but the album is most interesting when slightly rowdier singers interpret the material. Jason Aldean's sourness strangely enlivens "Tennessee River," Eli Young Band loosen up "The Closer You Get," Jamey Johnson turns "My Home's in Alabama" into something thick and swampy, while Toby Keith gives "She and I" a big-boned pulse (this leaves Alabama contemporary Trisha Yearwood in her own category but she does a lovely version of "Forever's as Far as I'll Go"). Comparatively, the two new Alabama songs don't make a great impression; "That's How I Was Raised" and "All American" are slow, nostalgic paeans for a lost America, with the latter boasting a bigger, better melody and an anthemic production (undone only slightly by the lingering impression that the group members recorded each of their vocal parts separately). Neither are memorable but they are pleasant, and the same can be said of this perfectly likable tribute album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi Hide synopsis

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