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"When It All Goes South"
RCA] ** 1/2

Be warned: Alabama's new disc was designed to be a "Grammy-quality project," according to Randy Owen, the hit-making group's lead vocalist.

That said, the curiously titled "When It All Goes South," serves up a girthy 15 songs, guaranteed to appeal to this group's legions of loyal fans and, as if more proof is needed in a career that has sold 65 million records, point to this group's staying power.

Is this a good disc?

About middle of the road as Alabama discs go.

The boys would've done well to chuck the hype, settle on one producer instead of multiple, trim off some of the schmaltz and flab and send wan guest vocalist Christopher Cross (what is it with this guy?) packing into oblivion.

But Alabama is, more than anything else, a slave to the hit. And "When It All Goes South" has a few.

Best-of-disc honors go to Chapin Hartford's "Simple As That," a chance encounter with a couple celebrating a golden anniversary simply -- parked in a camper van, holdin' hands, staring at a field out on Highway 1. Great song, great message, great execution.

No. 2 goes to the up-tempo "Reinvent the Wheel," which opines that it's awfully tough finding true value in a nation brimming with copycats (any irony here?). There's a bunch of honorable mentions, including the title cut, one of those goofy "the South will rise again" anthems that somehow manages to work, trotting out every cliche from kudzu and John Deere to MoonPies and RC Cola; "Wonderful Waste of Time" and its infectious reggae beat; and "Clear Across America Tonight," in which a relationship on the brink is put to the test of call-in radio.

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