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Review: Alabama is a 'Dixieland Delight' at the Fox

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - For a little more than a week, the Beacon has had a visitor from Moscow, the editor of a journal on journalism who also teaches at the university level there. Early in her stay I gave her a list of possible music I would like that we could hear on Friday night: The Arianna String Quartet, “Faust” at Winter Opera, Mozart at the Symphony and Alabama at the Fox. She didn’t hesitate: Alabama.

Moscow has all sorts of classical music, she explained. True, it does not have the boys from Fort Payne, Ala.

I have to admit I was surprised, and then I was a little nervous. The band had disbanded almost a decade ago, reforming fairly recently, and I had paid little attention to reviews about the Back to the Bowery tour. What if the magic and the energy and the grit that made Alabama such a success for so long had slipped? Would I be taking our guest to see an over-the-hill group?

The worries were unfounded. The three original members of the group – Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook – were crisp and spot on from the opening number, “If you’re gonna play in Texas (you gotta have a fiddle in the band).” The crowd rose with the opening chords and sat only on the rare slower or new song – or when Owen was out of the spotlight.

I also didn’t have to worry about translating lyrics such as “Sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth.” Some phrases may have seemed to make little sense but the music had its own rough elegance and my guest was clapping and responding as though she knew the tunes.

Rant alert

Speaking of which, during the vast majority of the songs, most of the people were quietly singing along – and not so quietly when the mic was held out to the crowd. Almost every voice in the place knew when to yell “Cotton Eyed Joe.” But about a dozen people in the two rows behind us seemed to think they were the entertainment.

It was one thing to have them sing loudly and badly along with “Tennessee River” or the encore, “Mountain Music,” – there’s enough volume from the band to carry any crowd on those. But don’t ask me about a couple of the slower songs or any of the conversation Owen was directing toward the audience because the conversation behind us drowned out every word. And I only know for sure that the Alabama harmonies are intact because someone else finally told the crew that they “needed to shut up.”

The boorish behavior of a few, however, did not spoil the concert for our guest. Plus, the Fox Theater itself provided extra entertainment.

One other caveat: Part of the allure of Alabama to our guest was the idea that country music is America’s music. I won’t argue that, but before she leaves, we have to go to BB’s, Jazz at the Bistro or Robbie’s and find more American music.

Donna Korando started work in journalism at SIU’s Daily Egyptian in 1968. In between Carbondale and St. Louis Public Radio, she taught high school in Manitowoc, Wis., and worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the copy editor and letters editor for the editorial page from 1973-77. As an editorial writer from 1977-87, she covered Illinois and city politics, education, agriculture, family issues and sub-Saharan Africa. When she was editor of the Commentary Page from 1987-2003, the page won several awards from the Association of Opinion Page Editors. From 2003-07, she headed the features copy desk.