Songs of Inspiration

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By and large, 2006's Songs of Inspiration, Alabama's first foray into gospel music, is quiet and respectful, a record made with care and precision but certainly not without heart. The reverent tone may be reminiscent of Alan Jackson's spiritual album Precious Memories -- released eight months before Songs of Inspiration -- but where Jackson sought out unfamiliar traditional tunes, Alabama stick with the familiar, singing such standards as "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," "In the Garden," "Amazing Grace," "How Great Thou Art," "Jesus Loves Me," and "Rock of Ages," even finding ways to work "Silent Night" and Red Foley's "Old Shep" into the mix. Their arrangements are straightforward, slow, and spare, emphasizing their still-strong harmonies, and they serve the songs well, even if they do wind up sounding a bit samey. Naturally, this means that when they pick up the tempo, those songs tend to boldly stand out, which the rip-roaring duet with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley on "I Am the Man Thomas" and Randy Owen's surging original "Rain" -- the song here that comes closest to the patented Alabama sound -- certainly do. These songs are so strong that it's hard not to wish that there were just a couple more like them, since that would give Songs of Inspiration a variety that would be welcome, but even without them this is a fine record, one that's expertly executed yet also clearly heartfelt.

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