Thursday, December 23, 2010

Alabama, "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way"

February 8, 2011, will see the release of the all-star Waylon Jennings tribute album The Music Inside - A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings, Vol I.  Our first taste is a new version of Waylon's familiar classic "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," and the legendary country group known as Alabama has reunited to record the song for this tribute project.

Such tribute attempts all too often fall into one of two common pitfalls.  You have those well-intentioned covers that end up reverently being pointless re-creations of the original.  You also have those who attempt to modernize a song, or to put their own spin on it, and end up going in entirely the wrong direction, ultimately ruining it.  Alabama's version of "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" smartly avoids falling into either trap.  The intro sounds similar to the original, but the band adds their own touches with a few guitar licks and fiddle hooks.  As the track continues, the production style sounds more reminiscient of Alabama's own hits.

We see one small but meaningful personal touch in the way Randy shifts the pronouns around, saying "we" and "us" where Waylon said "me."  It may seem like such a small change, but it shows that Alabama as a group relates to the sentiments expressed in the lyrics.  It also highlights the fact that the song's message has only grown more relevant over time (save for the references to rhinestone suits).  Waylon Jennings commented on how country music had gone downhill since the death of Hank Williams, and today's country music is even further removed from the tradition instigated by such legends.

But while I will give lead singer Randy Owen props for not attempting to closely imitate Waylon's vocal nuances, his delivery does sound laid-back in comparison to Waylon's, almost to the point of sounding disinterested.  He doesn't savagely butcher the song by any means, but the track could benefit from a more forceful lead vocal.  Despite that minor shortcoming, the band still manages to deliver an overall competent and respectable take on a timeless classic.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)