Songs of Inspiration, Vol. 2

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Arriving just five months after the release of the initial Songs of Inspiration, the sequel to Alabama's modest first foray into inspirational music sounds as if it could have been culled together from outtakes from the original album sessions -- which isn't necessarily a criticism since the first Songs of Inspiration is a good, if sedate, inspirational collection. It's not just the sound of Songs of Inspiration, Vol. 2 that is similar to the first, it's that its construction is nearly identical, as it relies heavily on familiar gospel tunes performed in familiar ways. Even when it pushes the boundaries of what is "inspirational" it is with a familiar song, "Star Spangled Banner," which may not be inspirational, but it is patriotic, which is the next best thing for an album like this, which celebrates traditional values and sounds above all else. Like before, this can sometimes be a little sleepy -- comfortable and warm, but not necessarily exciting -- but fortunately Alabama switches pace just enough times to keep things flowing well. The opener, "I Am a Pilgrim," is loose and laid-back, but almost lively, with a rolling country-rock beat, and it's not the only time that this kind of down-home vibe surfaces. There's a crisp version of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and a spirited "Down by the Riverside," or best of all, a real earthy, almost funky, version of "The Refrain of John Dillon James." Moments like this arrive more often than they did on the first Songs of Inspiration, and they're interspersed well, giving this a bit more momentum, which helps make this a sequel that may be just a shade better than the original.

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