Alabama – Christmas 8.0

Reviewed by on 13th December, 2016

Christmas is meant to be a time of togetherness. The grandest one of many disparate and cozy winter traditions, its strands have been carried by as far as muslim Turkey and shinto/buddhist Japan, enveloping all, quite beyond religion. And at the same time, it’s intensely imbued with beautiful Christian meaning, the nativity story rich with empathy, giving and love. Together, secular and Christian, we can sit by the fire and dream of peace on earth.

But we live in a split world now. Coming into this Christmas season after the American elections, the refugee crisis and the Brexit vote, life is not, to put it mildly, filled with much empathy. Christmas, our beloved time of togetherness has, in the United States, become a symbol of apartness, as a front line in a culture war. A media world seizes on every extreme, egging on people into thinking Christmas is under threat or that it’s somehow evil. To Christmas’s virtues of love have been added vices of sensationalism, discord and disingenuity.

But looking back at Alabama’s album Christmas, by a very Southern white Republican group, it’s interesting to consider it’s from a time before the current culture war was even a concept. The conservatism is inclusive, and at least purports to envelope people around the world and in other states; a song is unreflectingly called “Happy Holiday”, a phrase today’s conservatives have deemed toxic.

Certainly, it’s a Hallmark world of Christmas, one with few dark spots. The themes are naive, and the Christmas truce will always be told of ahead of the Christmas bombing. But this is a beautiful album that exist in a reality before the media logic ensnared us. I may be a city radical, but I think that logic and its collaborators are more responsible for the current climate than these nostalgic country musicians that are meant to be my enemy.

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Sensitive, loving and, indeed, conservative

Country in the 1980s was probably not at its high point, but Alabama have Nashville's biggest hit machine songwriters writing fantastic originals, and a magical, sensitive lead singer in Randy Owen, whose quietly faltering voice saves it from being entirely airbrushed and one-note. Generously arranged and perfectly crafted, this is an album filled with love for both the season and for recording ingenuity.

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