With an impressive run of hits in the '80s – thanks to a country sound washed in a sleek, pop sheen and with enough rock dynamics to put it all over – Alabama built an early template for how to be a country group in the 21st century. They had chart hits in three different decades, a pretty impressive lesson in longevity in a business that hardly encourages it. This well-sequenced set features some of the group’s most enduring songs, including “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why),” “Song of the South,” and “Mountain Music,” among others, and makes it easy to hear why Alabama was so ubiquitous in the genre.
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."
Ben Harper's history with the Blind Boys of Alabama has been an evolving one that has moved from being a guest on their Higher Ground offering and touring with them in Europe, to the Blind Boys joining Ben and the Innocent Criminals on-stage at the front and back of their show. This album began as a series of rehearsals for collaboration on a Blind Boys of Alabama record. Recorded in two sessions, the vibe in the room was loose and creative enough that the two acts ended up with an album of material for a joint release.
On their umpteenth release, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama mix some modern blues and R&B into their core gospel sound. The rhythm section, led by the organ of the legendary Booker T. Jones, keeps the accompaniment simple as the group soars through some traditional material ("Closer Walk with Thee," "Every Time I Feel the Spirit, "), a few originals by lead vocalist Clarence Fountain, and a transcendent version of Bob Dylan's "I Believe in You."