In the Mood: The Love Songs – 2003 (RCA)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Alabama is supposedly calling it quits this year on the road after a farewell tour. This 2-CD, 23 song set of hits with two new songs showcases one of the leading groups in country music for two decades for better and for worse.

One of the best songs is "Fallin' Again," clocking in at an incredible 7:44. But this is not replete with filler. Instead, the song builds with meaty guitar playing for the last few minutes, not a typical song for Alabama.

They follow with pretty standard fare for the band "Lady Down On Love" and the hit "The Closer You Get." Both are easy going songs with lots of good harmonies on "Closer..." la the Oak Ridge Boys. But like a chunk of Alabama's material, the light, airy approach doesn't cut very deep.

Randy Owens' vocals can be tender, but he's probably best when he gets more soulful, which makes for a livelier performance. The lead off new song "I'm in the Mood" works well as an acoustic-based song The Mavericks could have done, but the old Mike and the Mechanics hit "The Living Years" indicates just how pop Alabama has become.

Too often, the songs are handcuffed by unimaginative arrangements that are safe and syrupy. Not to mention louder. That, of course, didn't mean Alabama didn't have a slew of hits, many reprised here like "Here We Are," "Take Me Down" and "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time With You" with 'N Sync and "In Pictures." None exactly push the envelope.

And while some of the songs here do, one wished for more. Alabama certainly has enjoyed a long run and perhaps even presaged the pop rock sound so dominant in country since the mid '90's.