Almost 30 years after Alabama first started popping up on the country charts, lead singer Randy Owen stepped out with his solo debut, One on One, in 2008 -- not too coincidentally releasing it simultaneously with an autobiography called Born Country. It's a major attempt at redefinition for a man who has been defined as the voice of Alabama, a group that ruled the country charts for two decades, and to his credit, One on One does feel different than any record from the now retired band. Thanks to producer John Rich, One on One feels clean and contemporary, but it doesn't push Owen in an unfamiliar direction; it relies heavily on ballads and pop tunes that are lively without really rocking. It also has a strong dose of sentiment, with Owen singing love songs to his wife and daughter, all fitting for a singer who's staring down his sixties, but while this feels like the work of a veteran it doesn't necessarily sound complacent due to Rich's production. Rich moves Owen toward a smooth pop direction, giving the title track and "Let's Pretend We're Strangers for the Night" a slick warmth, something that makes it feel not too dissimilar to the urban country that ruled the airwaves at the outset of Alabama's reign on the charts. And a large part of the charm of One on One is that it harks back to that heavily melodic country crossover while being spiffed up for the present -- indeed, when Owen moves too close to modern times, as when he laments "Urban's on the Country Radio" in a litany of product placements, the record stumbles a bit (although the de rigueur Caribbean wind of "Barbados" works because it sounds closer to Rodney Crowell's "An American Dream" than Kenny Chesney's sleepy sunshine anthems). Fortunately, most of One on One rides a relaxed groove that plays on Owen's easy charm, which is more beguiling here than it was on the last stretch of Alabama albums.
One on One Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine