Alabama are one of the best-selling country acts of all time. The country legends have sold more than 75 million albums and singles and placed 43 No. 1 singles on the Billboard charts, earning broad crossover appeal. They are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The group recently released 'Angels Among Us: Hymns & Gospel Favorites' as a Cracker Barrel exclusive. The album features three tracks not found on the CD that Gaither released in late September and is available from Cracker Barrel here.

Singer Randy Owen and guitarist and fiddle player Jeff Cook took the time to speak with The Boot about the new project in the following interview.

Alabama Angels Cover
Cracker Barrel

What inspired this project to begin with?

Jeff Cook: We had thought about cutting a gospel album in the past, and we were fortunate enough to meet up with the people at the Gaither Organization and struck a deal and partnered with Cracker Barrel. And you're looking at the end results, 'Angels Among Us.'

How far back does the idea for this go?

Cook: That's hard to say. Probably 10 years or better. We didn't get together and have meetings about it, but it was something that was still on our minds during what was known then as the Farewell Tour.

When you got back together, was this one of the things at the top of your priority list?

Cook: Actually, we toured for two years before this came together. Two and a half.

Randy Owen: The first thing on our minds was to do 'Raised in Alabama,' because of the tornadoes that we had in Alabama, and throughout the Southeast really. That song was about, in our county, we had lost 34 of our friends and neighbors, and then of course the concert that we did with all of the wonderful entertainers that came to Birmingham to help raise money. That was kind of the start of ... it's almost like it was something that's meant to be, because we talked to one another, and we said, 'We need to do something. We've got to do something. There's just so much sorrow going on right now.'

That show was about bringing happiness and trying to bring people back to feeling better about all of the horrible things that happened, and we had a lot of great artists. And then the song 'Raised in Alabama' is on this new project.

So anything that's on there is just music from the heart. We didn't really need the lyrics to these songs. We knew the songs, and they're pretty much live. 'Angels Among Us' was cut totally live at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Ga. We had no idea that we had it on there, and then we got to talking about, 'Wouldn't it be great if we had a live recording of 'Angels Among Us,'' and the sound guy says, 'Well, I actually recorded the show in Atlanta.' So we just took that right off the board. So what you hear is what you got! [Laughs.]

After a few years apart, did you fear at all that you might get back together and it might not sound the way it used to?

Cook: No. We owe it to Brad Paisley for asking us to be on his song, 'Old Alabama.' I don't like that "old" part! [Laughs.]

Owen: We've got a new song for Brad called 'Old Brad Paisley.'

Anything that's on there is just music from the heart. We didn't really need the lyrics to these songs. We knew the songs, and they're pretty much live.

With so may hymns and gospel songs to choose from, how did you narrow it down to just the ones you cut for this record?

Cook: Even though we knew all of these standards -- Gaither sent us a list and requested that we do six or eight of those, our choice. We added to it for a total of 15 on Cracker Barrel's version.

Why are gospel and country so overlapped? Explain to me the importance of gospel music to country music, and to Alabama specifically.

Owen: So many of the great artists that's in the Hall of Fame, and those that have gone before us, if you ever looked at some of the old TV shows, they always had a gospel song on the show, or maybe two. I know Jeff's daddy always told us, when we was just starting to play, 'You boys need to sing at least one gospel song in your show.' And of course, it was not foreign to us because we'd grown up singing those songs. I think the first song Teddy ever heard was a gospel song that his mother and her sister were singing. So it's just part of our lives. When I go see my mom, she plays the piano and sings gospel songs. I grew up with it.

My mom and my daddy met at a singing convention, with her playing the piano and he was out back of the church plowing a mule. He saw this pretty little brunette come out of the church, and things started to happen. So I owe my life to gospel music!

Some gospel purists used to think that if you left that and went into commercial country, that wasn't great. Have you ever experienced that?

Owen: I saw something that Carrie Underwood did -- she goes into part of 'How Great Thou Art' and does a great version of that. One of our heroes, Elvis Presley, and even Johnny Cash, they didn't see any problem with doing gospel songs. It was all one and the same. Elvis had no inhibitions about his faith, and that's pretty much the way we are. It's something that we love and wanted to do, and who better to show us how to do it than Elvis and Johnny Cash and some of these great artists like Loretta Lynn, that sang the gospel songs that they love.

Our fans eat at Cracker Barrel, and we eat at Cracker Barrel a lot. It's a down-home kind of thing, and that's what we're about.

Tell me about the partnership with Cracker Barrel. What makes that the right fit for this project?

Owen: Our fans eat at Cracker Barrel, and we eat at Cracker Barrel a lot. [Laughs.] It's a down-home kind of thing, and that's what we're about. As far as the business dealings, that's something our manager and the folks at Gaither did, and I'm sure there were lawyers involved. It was something we were pleased with, and we're pleased to be able to do the music, and that the fans seem to be really enjoying it, and it's selling incredible.

Is there any chance you could ever do a whole tour of this kind of music?

Owen: Probably not. That would be really hard because you have 43 No. 1 records on the country side. I was talking to Duane Allen's wife last night at the Grand Ole Opry, and she was talking about when the Oak Ridge Boys did the Gaither thing, they sang 'Elvira.' [Laughs.] So it's not being fake, it's just who we are. We've sang gospel songs but never had the opportunity like we did with Gaither and Cracker Barrel. But for us, that's just who we are and what we do. We're very proud to be part of all this stuff.

Is there anything else that you want to say about 'Angels Among Us,' or anything else that you've got coming up?

Owen: We're grateful that the fans have responded the way they've responded. And everyone involved that's been part of our career, we say thanks to them, because there's some great players. Gordon Mote was our bandleader in the studio, and he was a genius. He could understand what we were talking about as far as the feel of the music. It was almost like he was singing along with me when we were laying down the tracks. Those tracks were laid down, the vocal basically is just the way it was. We went back and overdubbed a little thing, things where I wasn't exactly sing the way Jeff and Teddy could put the harmony on it. But it's pretty much what you hear.