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Various Artists

High Cotton: A Tribute to Alabama – 2013 (Lightning Rod)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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It's easy to view "High Cotton: A Tribute to Alabama" as the indie Alabama tribute, as it comes out around the same time as "Alabama & Friends," which features such big country stars as Luke Bryan and Toby Keith. And it's true; the 14 artists featured on this collection haven't attained the level of commercial clout represented on that 'other tribute.' However, "High Cotton" clearly takes far more liberties with Alabama's original material and is a much more adventurous look at this commercial powerhouse of yesteryear.

Jason Isbell and The Civil Wars' John Paul White's sadder than sad version of Old Flame may add a large dosage of drama to the original tune, but it's T. Hardy Morris' recording of High Cotton that grabs attention most with its stern aural reminder that we're not in the original Alabama country any longer. Morris turns this happy memory song into an eerie, moody and spooky recollection with a musical backing track that comes off like a country Pink Floyd.

It's also good fun to hear a few artists putting their individualistic fingerprints on Alabama's hits. For instance, JD McPherson turns Why Lady Why into an Otis Redding slow soul groove, while Lucero transforms The Closer You Get into a Springsteen-esque bar band rocker.

While T. Hardy Morris stretches Alabama's source material the most, nothing here that reworks these tunes beyond recognition. Instead, these talented artists help us see familiar songs in an entirely different light. Alabama was never hip or cool, but with the help of these "High Cotton" participants, their songs at least are. Moreover, these old songs also sound brand new in many instances.