Atlanta Rhythm Section

Underdog/The Boys from Doraville

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The eighth and ninth studio albums (there was a live recording between them) from the Atlanta Rhythm Section got a belated U.K. CD release in 2010. These closed out the act's affiliation with Polydor Records and are condensed onto a single CD here, as well as digitally remastered. It's another in the classy series of ARS reissues from BGO, which has treated the Southern pop act's catalog with utmost respect on four previous discs that bring the group's original albums back in print for collectors and music fans who want more than the 17 hits on Polydor's well-chosen 1982 vintage Best Of. Liner notes from Campbell Devine tend to be fawning but include a comprehensive history of the band, recounting its story leading up to and even after the recording of these tunes. Musically, ARS captured a unique style halfway between the smooth West Coast pop of the late '70s and the Southern rock of the era. Underdog, from 1979, is a pleasant if overly laid-back collection that included a charting cover of "Spooky," originally a hit for the Classics IV, members of whom ended up in ARS. Overall, the album plays off the success of 1978's Champagne Jam, which yielded the quintet's biggest hit, "Imaginary Lover," a song whose lazy tempo and prominent keyboards were a substantial part of its appeal. The guitars crank up a bit on "It's Only Music" and tacking on a cover of Ray Charles' "Let's Go Get Stoned" to the end of the sly "I Hate the Blues" is a sharp move, but overall the members seem tired and not entirely focused. The closing acoustic ballad "My Song" alludes to having to play tunes the crowds demand to hear nightly. As if to show they are revived, 1980's The Boys from Doraville is decidedly more propulsive. It opens with the chugging J.J. Cale-ish "Cocaine Charley," then shifts into full Steely Dan mode on "Next Year's Rock & Roll." "Silver Eagle" displays a pronounced country influence with its pedal steel guitar and there are a few ballads, but this feels like a rejuvenated band with something to prove. Though it only peaked at 65 on the Billboard charts, vocalist Ronnie Hammond sings with real soul, a combination of Michael McDonald's throaty croon with a bit of Paul Rodgers' rough rock & roll rasp. It's not the group's finest moment, but this can be considered a hidden gem in the Atlanta Rhythm Section's catalog and is well worth seeking out for fans who might have missed it the first time around.

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