It seems that the legendary group Alabama is making musical news in a way that is similar to their glory days of the 1980s and 1990s. They are in the middle of their first tour in close to a decade, and will soon embark upon the high seas on the Alabama & Friends Festival At Sea cruise October 24-28. They are also the subject of not one -- but two tribute projects that are on the market this fall.
August 27 saw the Show Dog/Universal release of "Alabama & Friends," and Sept. 17 will see the premiere of "High Cotton: A Tribute To Alabama" on Lightning Rod Records. An eclectic group of artists are involved with the project, ranging from The Blind Boys Of Alabama to Americana favorites Elizabeth Cook and Todd Snider to Asleep At The Wheel front man Ray Benson.
"I've been an Alabama fan forever, and I heard Jason Isbell start to cover Love In The First Degree while on tour with Ryan Adams," Lightning Rod president Logan Rogers tells Billboard. "I thought it was cool and current, and the song was so great that it made me think there's a lot of bands out there that really love Alabama -- especially bands that are from the south."
From that performance, Rogers was inspired to put together a tribute album to the super group. Given the depth of their success, he didn't meet with any resistance regarding artist involvement. "I started talking to people about it, and it was really surprising to see the range of songs that people wanted to do," he said, adding that the lyrical content of the Alabama catalog still endures to this day. "When you strip it down to the songs, they're amazing. They are such a narrative of the south, and a certain sort of point of view."
Rogers, who also produced the album, said there are plenty of highlights. The first two cuts that were turned in were J.D. McPherson's version of "Why Lady Why," and Jessica Lea Mayfield's "I'm In A Hurry (And Don't Know Why)."
"I thought those two set the tone perfectly, because they took the song to a new place -- and didn't just do a karaoke version of it. They took the songs in the studio, and found a new way to tell the story. You can listen to Jessica, and tell she made it more of an introspective version."
The release also contains a few notable collaborations, such as "Love In The First Degree," which pairs Texas Music star Wade Bowen with rising newcomer Brandy Clark. "I was familiar with Wade for a long time, and had heard Brandy's name, but I didn't know her as an artist," said Rogers, though he admits he has since become a fan. "Their vocal on that was just a real artistic highlight for me on the record, and they truly evoke the emotion in that song. It's just amazing."
Cook and Snider pair up for a take on the romantic ballad "Feels So Right," which Rogers said was a natural choice. "She's a serious country fan. I knew I wanted her on here, and for her and Todd to sing that song was just a real treat."
Though the group has been heavily promoting the Show Dog – Universal project which features them, Rogers said that Alabama has responded to the Lightning Rod release, as well. "We started sending tracks to them, a few at a time, through their management company, and everybody has been completely supportive. They have gone beyond whatever we would have ever asked for. They have their own album, but we have this record that might introduce Alabama to a new group of fans, so it helps everybody," he said.
Just as the group Alabama has made giving back a hallmark of their career, the album will reflect a charity side, as well, says Rogers. "I wanted their management and the band to decide where they wanted it to go to, and they picked the Grammy foundation. So, they will benefit from this album."
"High Cotton" will be featured prominently during the upcoming Americana Music Festival & Conference in Nashville, with a showcase on Sept. 21 at Grimey's. "The artist list is shifting around a bit right now, but we're going to have a lot of people there playing Alabama songs, and we'll have some special guests," says Rogers. "It will be a real tribute to them, and a lot of fun. We have an hour slot that today, and it will be a huge event."