Personnel: Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry (vocals, background vocals); Billy Davis, Lisa Cook , Chip Davis , Jason Spencer, Angela Primm, Randy Owen (vocals); Charles English (acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Brian Sutton (acoustic guitar, dobro); Joel Key (acoustic guitar, banjo); Kenny Greenberg, J.T. Corenflos, Tom Bukovac, Adam Shoenfeld, Danny Radar (electric guitar); Jimmy Stewart (dobro, fiddle); Wanda Vick (banjo); Larry Franklin (mandolin, fiddle); Alison Krauss (fiddle); Chris Carmicheal (strings); Charlie Judge (horns); Gordon Mote (piano, Hammond b-3 organ, Wurlitzer organ); Glenn Worf, Jimmie Lee Sloas (bass guitar); Greg Morrow (drum); Doug Stokes (percussion).
Recording information: Blackbird Studio A & C; Cook Sound Studio; House of English; Music Brothers Studio A.
Photographer: Alan Messer.
Southern Drawl arrives 14 years after Alabama's last secular album, 2001's When It All Goes South -- a record that reached four on Billboard's Country Albums chart but is largely forgotten -- but a better way to put it into context is that it is the group's first record since Brad Paisley kick-started a new millennial Alabama revival thanks to his 2011 hit "Old Alabama." The group -- now down to the founding trio of Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, and Teddy Gentry -- did attempt to ride that wave in 2013 via the showy tribute album Alabama & Friends, a record mainly notable for getting the band back out on the road, a process that eventually led to Southern Drawl. Opening with a heavy-footed stumble through all the things that make the South great -- a parade of signifiers that could double for the best things of Red States -- Southern Drawl doesn't get off to an auspicious start; buttressed with big beats and cranked guitars, Alabama don't sound defiant as much as a group of greying uncles squeezing themselves into skinny jeans to prove they're hip. Trying too hard is an unfortunate undercurrent on the record, whether it's on the clunky cornpone novelty "Hillbilly Wins the Lotto Money," the sticky wedding dance wannabe anthem "I Wanna Be There," or "American Farmer," an attempt to reignite the workingman spark of "40 Hour Week (For a Living)." Such down-the-middle numbers overshadow much subtler and nicer moments scattered throughout the record, moments that usually arrive in the soft, sweet ballads that give the group plenty of opportunity to showcase its gentle, interwoven harmonies. These slow tunes more than the over-pumped rockers feel the truest to old Alabama. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine