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Alabama

Livin' Lovin' Rockin' Rollin: The 25th Anniversary Collection – 2006 (RCA)

Reviewed by Brian Wahlert

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After 25 years, Alabama has 42 number 1 country singles and 70 million records sold. More concert tickets sold than any other country act. Three consecutive Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year awards. Five consecutive Academy of Country Music (ACM) Entertainer of the Year awards. The ACM Artist of the Decade. Country Band of the Decade from the Recording Industry Association of America. Cited as a key influence by many of today's country artists, particularly bands like Lonestar. And finally, the youngest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Alabama is quite simply one of the most important, best-loved acts in country music history.

Nashville journalist Robert K. Oermann cites many of these statistics, but also goes much deeper in his 3,300-word accompanying biography. It turns out that the Alabama story is also a wonderful rags-to-riches story, as Teddy Gentry's and Randy Owen's families could barely put food on the table when they were young. It's a story of overcoming fear, as Randy Owen had to get past his shyness to take the frontman role, and promises kept, as the band continued to play for peanuts in its early days even after four straight number-one hits, making good on concert commitments that were booked before their meteoric rise to superstardom.

Even more, it's a story of hard work, as the band played over 3,000 shows over the course of their career, many times playing far after any other country act would have quit. But most of all, it's about a long-term relationship with their fans. Without the fans, says Owen, "there could have been no Alabama."Oermann's essay is outstanding, as is the rest of the booklet that comes with this boxed set, including Oermann's notes on each of the 51 tracks and a detailed timeline tracking the band's history.

But of course, the centerpiece of this collection is the music, and refreshingly, RCA didn't just play it safe by rehashing all of Alabama's hits. After all, that rehash already happened on 1998's two-CD set, "For the Record: 41 Number One Hits."

This time around, the label travels farther afield to unearth some lesser-known songs and alternate versions of some of the hits. In fact, only 17 of the chart toppers appear here in their original versions. They're accompanied by 11 live tracks, including concert favorites "If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)," "Dixieland Delight" and the band's first hit "Tennessee River." Favorites like "Christmas in Dixie" and "Angels Among Us" appear here as well, even though they never climbed high on the charts. A Randy Owen demo track from 1973 called "Ripperly O'Tucke" shows up here, showcasing his early songwriting and singing talent. And 10 album tracks that never got released as singles appear, including the appropriate closing track, "The Fans."

Between the inventive selection of music and Oermann's fantastic journalism, this set is a worthy tribute to country's greatest band.