Nowadays, long hair and loud guitars are common in country music. That wasn't always the case. The new album "Alabama & Friends" pays tribute to a pioneering band that proved decades ago how popular merging country and Southern rock could be.
Forty years after country rockers Alabama formed, the band's sound no longer carries the shock of the new. But a gang of contemporary country stars, all of whom incorporate rock into their music, celebrate another country music trait: concise, catchy songs survive the ages.
Several 21st-century stars put their stamp on Alabama favorites. Jason Aldean adds arena-guitar crunch to "Tennessee River," Luke Bryan finds joyous fun in "Love in the First Degree" and Florida Georgia Line brings extra bounce to "I'm in a Hurry (and Don't Know Why)."
Even better is the intimacy Kenny Chesney instills into "Lady Down on Love" and the Bob Seger-like soul Toby Keith pumps into the underrated "She and I." Best of all, Jamey Johnson's performance of "My Home's in Alabama" fits him like an old denim jacket - the rare tribute that improves on the original.
After a 10-year break from recording, Alabama reunited to cut two new songs, which was at least one too many, as neither carries the nostalgic weight of their more famous songs. Still, there is plenty here to make these old Southern rock pioneers proud.