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Classic Album Review-Alabama “The Closer You Get”

Greetings from Asheville, where a fine afternoon has been spent in the River Arts District (I highly recommend it on your next visit). Here, there’s always good music on the turntable, in the CD, or on the MP3. And today is definitely a day of good music on the turntable. You know, we used to call these guys the “Super Group”, now we call them “Hall Of Famers”; and deservedly so. From my era of music, it’s Alabama. And we are taking a look back at the album “The Closer You Get”, their seventh album, fourth for RCA Victor. Released in March, 1983, the album would sell over four million copies, and peak at number one, spending twenty-one weeks on top, while cracking the top ten on the Pop list. Three singles, all number ones, came from the disc, as well. As impressive as twenty-one weeks sound, it was actually their third longest run at number one on the album charts, as “Feels So Right” spent twenty-seven weeks on top and “Mountain Music” twenty-eight weeks.

The title cut is the opener, and I think it is one of their best hits. Great melody and tempo, and as always, good tight harmonies that we expect anytime their music is coming through the speakers or the headphones. Just a great recording. As the album’s second single, it became their tenth straight number one single, while climbing into the Adult Contemporary top ten. It also eeked into the Pop top forty, becoming their fourth appearance, there. Two years prior, another pretty good version of this song, by Don King, climbed into the mid twenties. It’s also interesting to note that the song’s writers also had some vocal success, as well. Mark Gray would have some hits during the mid 1980′s, while J. P. Pennington was lead vocalist for most of Exile’s hits.

“Lady Down On Love” was especially popular with the band’s female fans, upon it’s release, and continues to be, twenty-eight years later. It is a great ballad, and frankly, you could very strongly argue that it’s one of Randy Owen’s best, if not the best vocal performance of his career. Fine piece of music. As a single, it was the album’s last single, charting in late summer of 1983, becoming their eleventh number one song.

On a previous review of T. G. Sheppard’s “Slow Burn” album, we ran across the song “She Put The Sad In All His Songs”. As I mentioned, then, it was also an early single for a then-unknown singer named Ronnie Dunn. Although Ronnie’s version wasn’t a hit, it was an outstanding recording that I think should have been. As for Alabama’s version, I like their vocals, very much, but I don’t like the tempo. While speed-wise, there’s not much difference in the versions, it’s how the beats come down. That’s where Ronnie’s version really stands out. One other note made on the Sheppard review was how the deeper vocals of Ronnie Dunn were more effective. Randy’s voice is a bit higher than Dunn’s, but not enough, in my opinion, to make a difference on this song. Again, very good vocals, not as good tempo.

Teddy Gentry takes a turn at lead vocals on the Country-Rocker “Red River”. Not anything fancy, just good, effective, straight-ahead music. Gentry’s vocals are good, but what really stands out, here, is the musicianship. A nice vehicle to show off some fine picking.

Jeff Cook gets a shot at lead vocals on side one’s (vinyl version) concluding track. “What In The Name Of Love” is a ballad that is not to the level of “Lady Down On Love”, but is still far from a bad or bland track. It’s simply a good quality piece of music that I’m sure played well with most, if not all Alabama fans.

The first single of the album’s three, actually released before the album, is the opening track of the second side, “Dixieland Delight”. After it’s February, 1983, debut, it would become their ninth number one hit. This is another quality track that is simply one of those “feel-good” songs; not too heavy, nice melody, lite lyrics, good beat. Also worth noting, is the album version is non-edited, giving us the full five minutes, which in this case, is good, as opposed to the single edit, which I believe was about a minute and a half shorter.

Not only could they pick and sing, but the boys from Fort Payne could write a fair share, as well. Randy Owens penned “Lady Down On Love”, and teamed with Teddy Gentry on “Very Special Love”.

Not anything fancy or spectacular, but a nice ballad. As always, nearly impeccable vocals and just the right amount of production; not under-produced or too lush. Only criticism, I think they could have faded the trailing music out a little sooner and still been fine; 4:50 might be a little too long for this song.

“Dixie Boy” is another quality piece of music, again, with Randy Owens in lead. A mid tempo number, it’s not one that is going to jump out at you with incredible picking or groundbreaking lyrics, but it is a song that will tend to grow on you as you listen to it. You start out thinking, “Not sure this is going to be much of a song.”, but by the end, you’re thinking a pretty decent tune.

The ballad “Alabama Sky” features Teddy Gentry in the lead. A song that if you grew up having a close relationship to your grandfather(s), you should be able to relate to. It’s another quality piece of music from an album that is full of them. I will say that this one teeters on being over produced, particularly on the refrain, but that was the norm for the eighties.

Jeff Cook gets one more turn at lead on the album’s final track, “Lovin’ Man”, a song he also wrote. It’s a Country-Rocker, good choice for the album’s finale. It’s the style that they did best and did as well as anyone in Country Music, today’s artists included.

No surprise that this album is still available, both as a CD and MP3 download. However, if retro formats are your thing, there are numerous used copies on vinyl and cassette for sale, most at $10 or less. But perhaps the most interesting thing I saw was 2 8-track copies for sale. Remember, by 1983, the 8-track format was all but dead.

As for the album’s Standout Track, I have to go title cut, here, “The Closer You Get”. The Hidden Gem is tougher, but I’ll go with “Red River”. As for Weakest Track, there really isn’t one, here.

Overall, an album of Alabama doing what they did best. The vocals are good, all of the songs are quality compositions, and overall, the arrangements work well throughout the album. I give this a 4.5 out of 5.

MORE MUSIC FROM ALABAMA

“My Home’s In Alabama”

“40 Hour Week”


MORE 1983 ALBUMS

Sylvia – “Snapshot”

Earl Thomas Conley – “Somewhere Between Right And Wrong”

Louise Mandrell – “Too Hot To Sleep”

AND STILL MORE TO SEE…

John Anderson – “All The People Are Talkin’”

Jerry Reed – “Ready”

To read more about Alabama, click on the image below and order Randy Owens’ book from Barnes And Noble.


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