Album: Alabama 3

The Last Train to Mashville Vol 2, One Little Indian
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When even such bastions of mediocrity as Bon Jovi are releasing acoustic compilations of their hits, the whole "Unplugged" bandwagon might be safely assumed to be rolling through the cemetery gates. But, thankfully, not before Alabama 3 remind us of the point of the format, with a collection of their best-known material reimagined as blues and country songs. Of course, the reason "Woke up This Morning" works so well in acoustic guitar and blues harp is that it's a country-blues number to begin with; but the real achievements lie elsewhere. In the way, for example, that sad fiddle and lonesome swoon of slide guitar transforms the junkie lament "Too Sick to Pray" into a country song with an authentic tragic dimension. Or the Morricone-esque harmonica and bleak violin lend the underclass plaint "Mansion on the Hill" the mood of a Tom Waits noir-blues. The restricted instrumental palette has forced the group to more accurately locate the heart of each song - so that, for instance, the prescient celebration of West Coast apocalypse, "Disneyland is Burning" (written before the recent fires) becomes a Randy Newman-style piano ballad; and the rednecks and "Chomsky's enemies" in "Woody Guthrie" are lambasted with the same guitar and banjo armoury with which the dustbowl balladeer "killed" the fascists of an earlier era.