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Songs of Inspiration

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Oct
Songs of Inspiration
Sounds like … the country supergroup performing traditional hymns and Southern Gospel standards with gentle and straightforward arrangements not unlike recent albums from Randy Travis and Alan JacksonAt a glance … while not as inventive or grounded in Christian hymnody as it could be, Alabama's first gospel album generally satisfies with charming, simple arrangements of old favoritesTrack Listing His Eye Is on the Sparrow In the Garden Amazing Grace How Great Thou Art I Need Thee Old Shep Jesus Loves Me Silent Night I Am the Man Thomas Rock of Ages In the Sweet By and By The Old Rugged Cross What Will I Leave Behind One Big Heaven Rain

One of the best-selling Christian albums of 2006 is Precious Memories, the first gospel effort from country superstar Alan Jackson. If its success is any indicator, then a strong response to Songs of Inspiration is even more assured. The gospel debut for legendary country group Alabama is one they've wanted to record for at least fifteen years, and one that fans have been hoping for even longer. Moreover, it marks their first new album since 2001's When It All Goes South, and their first recording since the group's 2003 farewell tour. Indeed, it debuted at No. 1 on both country and Christian albums charts.

It's apparent some more thought went into Alabama's project, which mostly draws upon the traditional hymns and Southern Gospel standards of their heritage. The simple, quiet arrangements for country and acoustic pop rely primarily on piano and guitar with occasional harmonica, fiddle, and even a children's choir ("Jesus Loves Me"). But the group manages to avoid falling into a predictable rut with a sprightly rendition of "In the Sweet By and By," the rousing bluegrass of "I Am the Man Thomas," and a charming strings-and-mandolin take on "Silent Night" that sounds right at home with the other hymns.

A few choices seem unconventional, however, unless you consider that the album's title never says it's exclusively hymns. "Old Shep" is a sweet little weeper about a boy and his dog that only touches on faith in considering canine heaven. Lead singer Randy Owen also contributes a couple originals, and though "Rain" could be the new model for contemporary worship gone country, the well-intentioned "One Big Heaven" may give believers some pause. True, we're all God's children regardless of race, culture, denomination, or religion, but the song treads an awkward line between explicitly saying we all need heaven and nearly implying that we're all bound for heaven.

Those red flags aside, Songs of Inspiration lives up to its title and generally satisfies, even when it's not always as inventive (or grounded) as it could be.

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