Alabama, 2014.



One of the most powerful tracks on Alabama's new Angels Among Us: Hymns & Gospel Favorites: Deluxe Edition is the moving "Raising Alabama," a song that lead singer Randy Owen is one of their most personal.

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"That's about the tornadoes that came through Alabama in 2011," Owen told Billboard. "Living through that changed everything. It's almost like a visit to St. Jude or Bethesda. You can't go through what we went through with 34 people killed in our county without it touching you. Where me and [bassist] Teddy [Gentry] live, there was hardly even a tree blown over, but just 4 miles from us, you had death. It was so amazing."

Lead guitarist Jeff Cook said the tornadoes left devastation near his house as well. "It was so close to me. It looked like a sawmill had exploded with all of the logs. This lady came to the door and said, 'I've got a hair appointment in Cullman. Do you think I can make it?' She couldn't get out of her driveway."

Owen recalled one story that particularly affected him. "There was this one community where this whole family got killed except the little baby. We pulled up and saw this funny-looking sign that had the word 'Bullet' on it. We realized it was a grave. In talking to the guy there, we then realized it was his dog."

Cook picks up the story: "He was put in a situation where he had ahold of his dad and his dog. He had to let go of one of them, because he couldn't save both. It was such a tragic story all the way around."

Though the new deluxe edition of the album -- available exclusively at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (the disc is also available in a standard edition from Gaither Music Group) -- contains a few newer songs, Gentry says most of the songs will be familiar to their fans. "We sat down and picked out our favorite songs from when we were growing up -- the songs we did in church. Gospel songs were the first ones that I remember hearing the melody or the words to," he recalled.

The album starts off with the trio's version of "I Saw the Light," which Owen said fits the album for a number of reasons. "First of all, it's Hank Williams. Growing up in Alabama, that was my daddy's favorite singer. Of course, he meant so much more to people in Alabama who didn't have a lot to hang on to -- especially in those tough years. He represented the poor man, what country music became for the working people. He represented so much to my folks. Growing up, I remember my daddy singing that song. That was, is and always will be just one of those classic songs. It goes far beyond Gospel. It represents the great writer, the star and the great message in the song."

Owen said that another family member will appreciate their decision to include the standard "Because He Lives" on the project. "My daughter asked me for that one. If they do that at church, she just loves it, and because she loves it, I do too. I thought the song had been around forever, but we didn't know that Bill Gaither wrote it. We were on a phone call with him, and he kept talking about what a special thing it was, I honestly didn't get it. Finally, I realized he had written the song."

Also special for the Country Music Hall of Fame members is a chance to partner up with Cracker Barrel. Owen says the company is just like family. "We actually played the morning opening of the Cracker Barrel in Fort Payne. That's how big of a deal it was for us. I don't know if you could have a better marriage than Alabama and Cracker Barrel -- what they stand for. They are about the whole family coming to eat. They have food our fans like. It's a great combination, and we're proud to have that association." His musical partners echo Owen's sentiments, with Cook saying, "My favorite place there is right in front of the fireplace," while Gentry quipped, "And, every year, those rocking chairs just look better and better."