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Champagne Jam
Atlanta Rhythm Section

Polydor PD-1-6134
Released: March 1978
Chart Peak: #7
Weeks Charted: 40
Certified Platinum: 9/26/78

Ronnie HammondIt's said that if you play "Imaginary Lover" at about 38 rpm, the Atlanta Rhythm Section sounds just like Fleetwood Mac, which really isn't too surprising since both bands spin their mellow-rock concoctions around a thickly accented snare beat. But that's only half the story. If you listen to Champagne Jam without paying too much attention, it sounds just like any other ARS album.

Atlanta Rhythm Section - Champagne Jam
Original album advertising art.
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Which explains both the strengths and weaknesses of the group. Like all ARS records, Champagne Jam is characterized by its smoothly melodic musical attack, with Ronnie Hammond's honeysuckle voice gloating atop a firm rhythm section that is periodically goosed by Barry Bailey's razor-sharp lead-guitar lines. As one might expect from a cadre of former studio musicians, this band has its sound down cold, but such rigid stylization can rob a group of its ability to surprise.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
Dog Days

Album Review:
A Rock and Roll Alternative

Atlanta Rhythm Section

Atlanta Rhythm Section

The Atlanta Rhythm Section's initial appeal came form its break with the often predictable Southern-rock genre: the band combined the usual guitar-solo orientation with an attractive pop sensibility. "Evileen," a moody ballad on which Bailey's guitar sprays the verses with silkily reverberating rhythms, is a fine example of that fusion, but the title song is the kind of ordinary jam any one of of a hundred groups could have done. Its jazzy lope is distinctively ARS, but like the hard-rocking "Large Time," it fails to generate anything beyond bemused familiarity.

Albums like this unlock a critical cobra: one must admit that the musicianship is first-rate while acknowledging that the more undefinable aims of art (growth, spontaneity, et al.) aren't being realized. So my doubting Thomas side asks the Atlanta Rhythm Section what they've shown lately, while the consumer's guide in me advises fans that Champagne Jam offers a toast very much like last year's.

- John Milward, Rolling Stone, 7/13/78.

Bonus Reviews!

There's such a thing as smoothing out too many of the rough spots, as this album by a group of veteran studio musicians demonstrates. All the members of Atlanta Rhythm Section are highly skilled, but skill by itself goes only so far in providing excitement or entertainment. Guitarist J. R. Cobb and Buddy Buie (who now acts as record producer for the band) wrote several quality ballads for Classics IV some years ago, but the material on Champagne Jam, all by group members, is rather pedestrian. Like many bands made up of studio men, the Atlanta Rhythm Section is so used to being technically perfect that they find it difficult to relax and take chances and maybe play a bum note every once in a while. As a result, they sound cautious and scientific. It's a legitimate problem -- having learned how to be super smooth, can you go back and relearn how to be sloppy?

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 7/78.

You can tell these guys are from Atlanta -- it says so right in the name. So why do they sound like lazy Eagles? Why have they concocted a title that is the rock and roll equivalent of "cocktail jazz"? And when are they going to change their name officially to ARS, as in AWB? C

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

The million-selling Champagne Jam has the "So Into You" rewrite "Imaginary Lover" as well as the near-reckless "I'm Not Gonna Let it Bother Me Tonight." * * * 1/2

- Allan Orski, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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