Last November, Alabama gathered some of their most famous friends and hit up Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium for a sold-out, guest-heavy performance. That concert, which featured collaborations with everyone from Trisha Yearwood to Jamey Johnson, hits stores today in the form of Alabama & Friends at the Ryman, a DVD and double-disc record that marks Alabama’s first live album in more than two decades.
The album kicks off with a live performance of the band’s 1984 chart-topper, “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band),” before moving into the first duet of the evening: a fiery, tag-teamed version of “Tennessee River,” featuring Jason Aldean on guest vocals and acoustic guitar. “This man is killing the world in country music right now!” Randy Owen tells the crowd by way of introduction, happily welcoming to the stage a country crooner whose current popularity — including 12 Top 10 singles and five platinum-selling albums — brings to mind the success Alabama enjoyed during the Eighties. [Watch the performance above.]
“Jason seems to enjoy music the way we do,” guitarist Jeff Cook tells Rolling Stone Country. “In today’s music market, it is sometimes difficult to sort out the good country from the bad rock and roll. I believe he leaves a positive stamp on country music.”
Several months before the Ryman show, Aldean recorded a studio version of “Tennessee River” with his own band. The song was released in August 2013 as the leadoff track from Alabama & Friends, a tribute album that cracked the Top 10 on the country and pop charts. Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and Eli Young Band — all of whom make appearances on the live album — also contributed to the disc.
This year, the boys in Alabama celebrate their 45th anniversary together. Still, playing a place like the Ryman — the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, as well as one of the most historic venues in all of country music — continues to floor them.
“It’s feels special to me to be able to stand there on the stage where so much musical history took place, and to be accepted as good enough to play there,” Cook reflects. “It really is the mother church of country music.”