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Songs of Inspiration – 2006 (RCA)

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

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CDs by Alabama

As one of country's highest-profile success stories, Alabama's not-so-secret weapon has always been Randy Owen's voice. Unimpeachably Southern, but with traceable hints of rock and soul, Owen's pipes reach out over the airwaves with an earnestness that stirs the faithful. In other words, it has all the qualities that would make great gospel music.

This album was Alabama's game to lose, and, they don't. The band has turned in the tour buses, secured their bona fides as Hall of Famers and rested up for years. Now, they've decided to simply put out one from the heart. The only thing that could've gone wrong here would've been falling into the monotony-of-joy droning that fails so many sacred music collections. But the band makes smart song choices of old and new, praise and introspection. Just when the strings get a little too lush, along comes Ralph Stanley to take the lead and save the day ("I Am the Man Thomas"). The schmaltz of "One Big Heaven" is rescued by the other Owen-original, "Rain," taking us back to the pedal-stomp mountain music of Alabama's heyday.

Even a card-carrying member of the Christmas and Easter churchgoing club would recognize many of these tunes (how about "Silent Night"?) as antiques, being handled with care. This record shows off some of the most sincere and heartfelt work Alabama has ever done.