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SWEET HOME ALABAMA

Review by Brad Green:
Just think about it. The Giza Pyramids, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the scaling of Everest, the first moon landing, the invention of the all-in-one shampoo and conditioner – there hardly seems to be a limit to the scope of human achievement. Yet here we have a feat to defy reason; an accomplishment to make the Egyptian Pharaohs, Michelangelo, Armstrong, Hillary and whoever did the shampoo thing shake their heads in collective astonishment. Anyone purchasing this CD should prepare themselves for an episode of gob-smacked awe, at least before reaching track eight. For it is there that you will discover Sheryl Crowe performing a modern miracle. In all of history alchemists have failed to turn lead into gold, yet in a single tune Crowe has transformed yodelling into something cool.

It’s a trademark of Crowe’s to add chick-grit to trad styles and come out smelling of perfumed pop, but the yodelling crosses another frontier altogether. I’m still not quite sure why, or how, but her version of Long Gone Lonesome Blues, yodelling and all, is undeniably more chic than hick, without ever losing the essential impression of being performed on a backyard porch. 

In fact, this whole soundtrack is a great example of southern country-blues given a subtle, contemporary make-over. We immediately know where the music’s home is, but we suspect a few renovations have been going on. 

Nonetheless, when the title track first kicks up, it seems like Jewel’s interpretation of the old Lynyrd Skynyrd classic is going to be a little too faithful to be exciting. But hold onto your rocking chairs lads, for she rips loose from the second verse. The real success of this version is that Jewel brings the same intelligent sensitivity that infuses her demure folk-pop melodies to the strident licks she showcases here. She doesn’t have the tough edge in her tone of the archetype fem rocker, but she cleverly uses her musicality to sound every bit as powerful and passionate. 

While the superstar girls have their fun with old classics, a brace of newcomers impress strongly with some wholly modern pop, paying homage to the country-blues theme only in guitar-driven arrangements and thick choruses. She Daisy, Avril Lavigne and Jason Chain all make strong contributions, while the standout is Charlotte Martin’s Bring On The Day. How refreshing it is to hear a full-on bells and whistles production enhancing a solid song instead of carrying an empty one. 

Adding some support to the album’s country heart are Ryan Adams and Dolly Parton; while the best blues outing comes from The Calling who rock-out winningly with their version of the Georgia Satellites hit Keep Your Hands To Yourself.

Rounding out one of the best easy listening compilations of the year is a superb suite from George Fenton’s instrumental score. A medley of sweet folk guitar, Dixieland slide guitar, tougher rock riffs and emotive strings it evokes the kind of broad landscape lyricism to be found in Mark Knopfler’s best work. 

It’s also the perfect coda to the perfect Xmas gift – for just about anybody. Even the yodel-phobic. 

Published December 19, 2002

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REVIEW

TITLE: Sweet Home Alabama
ID: 335982
FMR
ARTISTS: Jewel; SheDaisy; Avril Lavigne; Ryan Adams; Uncle Kracker; The Calling; Charlotte Martin; Sheryl Crow; Jason Chain; Shannon McNally; Dolly Parton; The Freestylers; George Fenton
TRACKS: 13







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