Alabama RodeoHouston, Reliant Stadium February 28, 2012
It must be an accident of fate that Alabama is considered a country band at all, let alone the most successful group in country music history. With more than 65 million records sold, not to mention an armload of CMA, ACM and American Music Awards, they have reached a commercial plateau somewhere in the neighborhood of the Himalayas.
There but for the grace of the Marshall Tucker Band go they.
Alabama has always been a Southern rock band at heart, albeit with a soft touch. At times they have watered down their sound to the point of complete MOR schlock, but that's how you sell records - by splitting the uprights, not by pushing the envelope.
A setting like Reliant Stadium calls for broad strokes and not fine lines, which is where Alabama excels. At approaching 50 years, lead singer Randy Owen (clad in a custom Texans jersey), fiddler/guitarist Jeff Cook and bassist Teddy Gentry have honed their church-choir harmonies to a point that can defeat any acoustic difficulties, not to mention schmaltz-saturated songwriting.
Cook's bluegrassy fiddle work dominated the early part of Tuesday's set on showpieces "If You're Gonna Play In Texas (You've Gotta Have a Fiddle In the Band)," "Mountain Music," "Tennessee River" (with some soulful Memphis piano by one of the trio's four additional players) and "Dixieland Delight."
Even the song titles are a tip-off of the kind of world where Alabama's songs are set: An idyllic place that has been purged of some of the more uncomfortable aspects of its history and there's always another helping of sweet potato pie. Life can be hard, but it's never cruel; one assumes the cotton pickers of "Song of the South" were paid a fair wage.
Alabama's values are as rock-solid as they come: Faith, family, hard work ("Roll On"), serving our country and, most importantly, the love of a good woman ("The Closer You Get"). It plays great in front of a stadium full of people who fancy themselves cowboys and cowgirls for three weeks in March.
Once in a while, though, something like the Allman-esque guitar solo in "My Home's In Alabama" will remind you that before they were big stars spouting homilies and, true, occasional platitudes, Alabama has never stopped being serious musicians either.
Personal Bias: One of the first cassettes I ever bought was Alabama's 40 Hour Week. We can't all grow up on Sisters of Mercy.
The Crowd: A good-looking, duded-up, older-skewing RodeoHouston crowd.
Random Notebook Dump: The pre-concert fireworks are better this year.
Mutton Busting Report: The kids had a hard time holding onto the wool Tuesday. The sheep were running slippery.
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If You're Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle In the Band) Tennessee River Dixieland Delight Song of the South Feels So Right She and I The Closer You Get Angels Among Us Roll On My Home's In Alabama Mountain Music