The title is that strange thing, both weirdly suitable and slightly misleading. “Hits”? Alabama 3 have never really ‘done’ hit singles, preferring to spread their gospel through their riotously entertaining live shows and eclectic albums. Yet the one hit they are well known for, Woke Up This Morning, was of course used as the theme tune for The Sopranos, so that “exit wounds” reference seems designed to bring back memories of Tony, Christopher and Silvio.
Yet after 19 years together and six studio albums, the time is ripe for an Alabama 3 retrospective. Some people may have unwisely written them off as a comedy act – perhaps understandable with band members called Larry Love and The Very Reverend Dr D Wayne Love, plus a fondness for fake American accents (they’re the most unlikely Brixton natives you’ll ever come across) – but this would be a grave underestimate of their talents.
As you’d expect from a band who blend country and western, blues, folk, rock and mix it all together with a whole host of acid house beats, Alabama 3 have a unique sound. Each track here is uplifting, danceable but also gives you something to think about.
Take Woke Up This Morning for example. It may be impossible to hear the song now without imagining Tony Soprano driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, but separate the song from its televisual cousin and you’ll find lyrics about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship who ends up shooting her husband. And it’s little surprising touches like that which run all through the album.
The collection is pretty evenly spread through all of Alabama 3’s albums and throws in the odd rarity (the impressive Orbital collaboration Ska’d For Life) and a couple of cover versions, such as John Prine’s Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness. The highlights though inevitably come from the brilliant Exile On Coldharbour Lane, with Hypo Full Of Love making for a swampy, sleazy opener, full of bluesy harmonica and some wonderful vocals from the co-vocalists.
Even better is Ain’t Gonna To Goa, a hilariously vicious satire on hippy drop-outs (“I ain’t dancin trancin, no thanks, no chance to tranquilize me”) and fan favourite U Don’t Danse To Tekno Anymore, which starts off slow and gospel-tinged before expertly building up steam into a bluegrass stomp.
Perhaps the highlight of the whole album though is Woody Guthrie. Taking the titular folk hero’s sound as a template and scattering their trademark beats over the top, the result is a brilliantly written attack on the BNP and racism, bringing Guthrie’s famous cry of This Land Is Your Land up to date in the chorus of “I don’t need no country, I don’t fly no flag”. All this and you can dance to it as well.
All this never becomes po-faced, mainly thanks to the band’s sense of fun. Hello I’m Johnny Cash is an uproarious anthem which squeezes in as an impressive amount Man In Black references into the lyrics, while the Dylan-referencing Sad Eyed Lady Of The Low Life is a superbly funky groove of a song.
At 18 tracks, the album is probably a bit too long. A few tracks could have been chopped off without affecting the album’s flow and the hardcore fan may be scratching their heads at the omission of tracks such as Cocaine Killed Our Community and Bulletproof.
Yet that’s always the danger with ‘greatest hits’ packages, and overall Hits And Exits Wounds does a decent job at introducing the band to those people who only know them as ‘that band who did the Sopranos theme tune’. As this retrospective proves, they deserve to be known for much more than that one track.