For some of us, one of the more satisfying moments in recent country music history came 2 years ago during the Academy of Country Music Awards show. There the members of Alabama sat in aisle seats, smug looks on faces, sporting sequined Admirals' uniforms and other suitably respectful attire, waiting to snork up their yearly pile of awards. And there they continued to wait, as new-traditionalists such as Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam walked by with all the trophies.
Maybe it was cruel to enjoy their discomfiture but it can't be any more cruel than what Alabama continues to do to country music, evidenced most recently by the group's deposit of treacly effluvium Friday evening at the Pacific Amphitheatre.
As Lionel Richie did with R&B, Alabama for over a decade has diluted country music--a form prized for its directness and honesty--into a bland, contrived, crossover form, closer in several respects to disco than country. But not surprisingly, after its awards trouncing, Alabama discovered that, whoa, hey, they had a passel of roots too and recorded the "Just Us" album, achieving a real-life country frankness and raw roots feel equal, perhaps, to Wings' "Magneto and Titanium Man."
The strength of their conversion to country tradition was heralded by the group's stage entrance Friday, involving flashing strobes, fog, a pulsing synthesizer dance beat and a stage design that looked like a cross between a starship bridge and a strip-mall yogurt shop.