The Continuing Adventures of the Music Industry’s Best Kept Secret*
January 10, 2004
(*due mostly to their advanced age and politics, a friend suggested in e-mail)
One of the definite highlights of 2003 was a flurry of releases from my favorite band, the UK’s Alabama3 (known as A3 in the US, to the extent they’re known at all).
Like most folks in the US, I first discovered them back in early ‘99, when the Sopranos first aired, featuring “Woke Up This Morning” as the series theme…
I’ve always got a laugh reading the reviews for “Exile on Cold Harbour Lane” (their first album, which included WUTM) out on Amazon (I’ll spare you the affiliate link today). Virtually every reviewer has the same story—bought the album for the Sopranos song, and then decided it was one of the best albums they’d ever heard.
Exile was magical—Larry Love’s whiskey-soaked bluesy vocals punctuated by Dewayne Love’s hyperkinetic voiceovers; a sound that is a strange mix of very well done gospel, blues, and old-school country, but mixed and sampled as extremely competent house music. All put together with lyrics, themes and politics that might come from somewhere between 1968 and Mars.
It was the wierdest, most listenable, and most addictive album I’ve ever bought.
Unfortunately, it was also two years old when I discovered it (along with most anyone else in the US who did). Was this a one-hit phenomenon? Would there ever be any more? Would the boys get back in the studio before they self-destructed?
Finally, three years after their first album, fall of 2000 brought a second effort, La Peste.
La Peste toned down the shtick a bit, and wasn’t quite the album Exiles was, but it had some great stuff on it. “Too Sick to Pray” found it’s way onto the “Gone in 60 Seconds” soundtrack, “Mansion on the Hill” was terrific, as was “Cocaine (Killed My Community)”, and their Hotel California cover managed to surpass the Gipsy King’s cover as my favorite rendition of the old Eagles standard.
Another two years went by (punctuated by the occasional CD single one could scare up on Ebay) before we saw their third effort, Power in the Blood in fall of 2002.
Still absent much of the shtick that characterized Exiles, Power in the Blood has the boys apparently hitting their mainline groove. Whether it’s my favorite or second favorite album (behind Exiles) depends on the day. Like Exiles, there are very few cuts on it that aren’t excellent, but for me, tracks like “Woodie Guthrie”, “Power in the Blood”, “Yellow Rose”, and “Bullet Proof” are among the absolute best they’ve ever released.
Best of all, instead of fading away, as time goes by, the boys just get tighter and better—and more prolific!
I was pleasantly surprised when fall of 2003 brought yet another new album (only a year since the last one!)—Last Train to Mashville. It took a month to get a copy (hint for US buyers—it is cheaper (and possibly faster) to buy from amazon.co.uk, and pay the exchange rate and international shipping than it is to order the import from amazon.com.)
Last Train to Mashville is full of very tight, well-produced, all-acoustic versions of some of their better tracks. Well done, with some interesting new mixes. The lyrics have also been substantially cleaned up. If you ever wanted to introduce Alabama3 to someone who might be put off by a lot of electronica samples (or the liberal use of “motherfucker” as punctuation), then Last Train to Mashville is the album to turn them on to.
I enjoyed LTtM a lot, but it was a little tame for my taste. Fortunately, just before the holidays, I was thrilled to receive “Live in Dublin” and “Zero Tolerance”—only available directly from the official Alabama3 website.
Live in Dublin is the polar opposite of Last Train to Mashville—high energy, raw, and powerful. It’s messy, fucked-up a bit, and just exactly what I expect I’ll find if I ever one day manage to drag my tired old butt to the UK to see them live in concert. I love it, and it manages to balance Mashville very nicely in my playlist.
Zero Tolerance was the cherry on top of my Alabama3 listening last year—new mixes of some of my favorites, plus a couple of excellent new tracks that very finely walk the line between old gospel/blues and cutting edge electronica.
All in all, it was a banner year to be an Alabama3 fan—better than finding a six-pack of That Old Purple Tin under the tree.
Alabama3 certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re tired of listening to the same old tired over-produced and over-commercialized crap that predominates the airwaves, you might click on over to alabama3.co.uk, download a couple of the MP3s they have up and give their streaming audio (“Radio A3” at the top of the page) a listen. Who knows, the mind you warp may be your own.
Did I mention that these guys can’t even spell RIAA, let alone give money to people who want to sue you for being a fan?
Last, but certainly far from least, be sure to stop by Free A3: Home of the Converted and the Unofficial Alabama 3 Web Site (“also featuring The Cxxts and The Larry Love Show Band”) and partake of tour reports, reviews, and a whole forum full of people with as weird a taste in music as I have (who knows—you might even find yet another band or two you’d like) —and don’t forget to give a shout out to rimone, who’s found her way to this weird little Texas backwater to help spread The Word….