Spirit Dancer

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Blackhawk's fifth album comes following many fundamental changes for the group. First and foremost, co-founder Van Stephenson died of cancer, leaving Henry Paul and Dave Robbins to carry on. The two were faced with further challenges. After a promising and successful beginning, the trio, all songwriters, had taken to putting out albums largely consisting of songs written by Nashville professionals that sold less and less well, to the point that Arista Records dropped them. So, Paul and Robbins signed to Columbia and tried to take back their music. The result is their most personal album. The title track, not surprisingly, is a tribute to Stephenson, and it's one of several earnest and sincere efforts, including "Days of America," a chart single ten months in advance of the album's release that unintentionally touched on the spirit of the country in the wake of September 11, 2001, and "Brothers of the Southland," Paul's attempt to honor the dead among his old Southern rock colleagues in the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. (He himself used to be in the Outlaws, another Southern rock outfit.) In other words, this is not your typical country album. The question is whether, for all its good intentions, it's any better. The music is defined by Paul's distinctively whiny voice, which cuts through the country-pop arrangements, and that voice is best put to use in the more introspective songs, such as "Forgiveness" and "Leavin' the Land of the Broken Hearted," which reflect on personal and professional mistakes. They may not be any more deeply felt than the other deeply felt songs on the album, but they're more revealing and touching. This is an album Blackhawk probably had to make. It's a risk, but at this point in the band's career, one worth taking.

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