Album Review by Mark Bayross
Mis-named after two black men who were hung for allegedly raping a white woman in the American Deep South in the 1930s, Alabama 3 rage against injustice and inequality through a joyous amalgamation of country blues and acid house. Rather than the Deep South, they come from a part of South London that has become synonymous with both the club scene and racial injustice – Brixton.
Nor are there three of them: Alabama 3 comprises seven members, collectively known as the First Presleytarian Church Of Elvis The Divine. Central to the group are vocalist Rob Spragg AKA Larry Love and “preacher man” Jake Black AKA The Very Reverend Dr D Wayne Love.
After the success of their first album, EXILE ON COLDHARBOUR LANE, one of the tracks, WOKE UP THIS MORNING, was chosen for the theme music to the hit TV series THE SOPRANOS and the group found themselves catapulted into the big time. Brixton must have felt a long way away while the band were leading a 26 piece gospel choir through the song in front of 25 million Americans on THE JAY LENO SHOW.
Despite the rather downbeat Camus-inspired title and lyrical content, Alabama 3’s second album still shows off their trademark uplifting quality, albeit in a “Screamadelica”-style fusion of euphoria and melancholy. Songs like SAD EYED LADY OF THE LOWLIFE and recent single TOO SICK TO PRAY have a gospel-like hugeness about them, while WADE INTO THE WATER and MANSION ON THE HILL twang with countrified swagger.
The album runs the gamut of emotions in the face of adversity: from the incandescent beauty of the shimmering WALKING IN MY SLEEP and the closing SINKING…” to the claustrophobic beats of COCAINE (KILLED MY COMMUNITY) and the energy rush of STRANGE, adding a sense of dope-fuelled urban paranoia.
Of particular note are a twisted beat-heavy cover of the Eagles’ HOTEL CALIFORNIA, throwing a totally new slant on the song as the last cocaine-addled stop on the country musician’s road to oblivion, and THE THRILLS HAVE GONE, whose spoken word contribution from Birmingham 6 survivor Paddy Hill brings into focus exactly what the band mean when they talk about injustice.
LA PESTE (THE PLAGUE) may well be HIV, computer viruses or simply a global decline in justice and morality, but Alabama 3 are imploring us to come together and get loaded anyway. After all, we all have to die sometime.