Picks and Pans Review: Southern Star
Get out the recipe for magpie soufflé, Ma, 'cause we're eatin' crow tonight. Just when it looked as if Alabama were never going to make another listenable country album, they up and change producers and turn out this album, which is sometimes touching, sometimes lively, sometimes both. During the eight years he spent as the group's producer, Harold Shedd inarguably made the quartet—Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry and Mark Herndon—into a commercial monolith. One can certainly make the argument, though, that he also made Alabama an assembly-line band with feelings to match. Now Shedd has shuffled off to head PolyGram's Nashville operations, leaving Josh Leo and Barry Beckett to produce this album. One obvious change is that only two songs of this album's nine were written or co-written by any of Alabama's members. Instead there's Bob McDill's "Song of the South," which allows the Alabamans to maintain their image as the house band of the old Confederacy with some style. There's a delicate love song by Danny Mayo and Kerry Chater, "If I Had You"—sung delicately by Owen. There's the familiar country thumper, "Barefootin' " by Robert Parker. These tunes and the other six on the record—including Owen's folksy "Ole Baugh Road"—are all performed with a sense of spirit and attention, in marked contrast to the lifeless, Muzaky approach that the band has taken in recent years. When they listen to Southern Star, in fact, those who have been critical of the band in the past are likely to say, "Hush my mouth," whereupon those Alabama fans who have never wavered in their support are likely to say, "About time." (RCA)
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