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"Sweet home Alabama, Lord, I'm coming home to you"

Class D

Main Category: Roots Rock
Also applicable: Hard Rock
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, From Grunge To The Present Day




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Lynyrd Skynyrd fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Lynyrd Skynyrd fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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The fewer dedicated Skynyrd fans there are in the world, the better (which is indirectly proved by selected reader comments on this page). Now don't get me wrong: the world needs a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd, just as the world needs a band like AC/DC or Black Sabbath or, well, I guess you got me. The big problem with Skynyrd is that they were always misunderstood. In the early to mid-Seventies, these guys epitomized the very essence of Southern rock, and in doing so, also managed to spoil Southern rock's reputation for a whole league and more. Contrary to rumours, they weren't racists, conservatives, segregationists, confederate associates, etc., etc.; their bravado, redneckish attitude should have always been taken with a grain of salt, as it was always tongue-in-cheek. After all, people do tend to brag about the lyrical matters of 'Sweet Home Alabama', but putting this song up as a death sentence for the band is pretty similar to accusing Mick Jagger of Satanism based on 'Sympathy For The Devil': in other words, ridiculous (the fact that the same album also features 'The Ballad Of Curtis Loew', an ode to a black bluesman, kinda escapes people). In the same way, one might view 'Things Goin' On' as a bold statement of anti-Semitism, and God knows how many other crimes one can find in good old Ronnie Van Zant's lyrics.

The unfortunate thing was that Skynyrd did their Southern thing with such loads of conviction they couldn't help being marketed and publicized as, you know, the Sons of the Cotton Fields, just as Sabbath were always pictured as Sons O' the Devil. In that respect, they've managed to earn themselves many a thoroughly braindead fan from the same cotton fields who loves them not so much for the music but ever so much for the image. Let me get this straight now from the very beginning: I don't care much about Skynyrd as a 'way of life'. Perhaps, if I were born in Alabama, it would be a different matter; but I wasn't, and looking at this band from an objective point of view, I just prefer to concentrate on their musical, rather than cultural, value.

Skynyrd are often compared with the Allman Brothers Band - and not without reason. There are quite a few similarities between the two. Both are taken as the most obvious symbols of Southern rock. Both had an enormous lineup: seven full-fledged members (the difference was that the Allmans had two drummers, while Skynyrd had three guitarists). Both engaged in the practice of endless jamming on stage. The most gruesome coincidence is that both bands had the most important, prolific band members killed in accidents: Duane Allman and Berry Oakley of the Allmans perished in motorcycle accidents, and Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines perished in an airplane crash. This kinda makes me wonder if there's actually some terrible curse lying on Southern rock as a genre. Oh well, at least John Fogerty is still alive - though, on the other hand, CCR is no more. Oh yes, the final coincidence is that, despite the odds, both the Allmans and Skynyrd managed to reform and are still touring up to this day. Hah! You can't just kill off Southern rock like that! Just like that! Hah, I say! The spirit lives on.

Personally, when given the choice between Skynyrd and the Allmans, I'd still take the latter. I'd say that Skynyrd were a trifle - just a trifle - more efficient in the songwriting department: their debut album was a glorious Bible of Southern style which the Allmans never quite managed to pull off (yeah, I do think it's even better than Idlewild South). However, Lynyrd never quite lived up to the promise: they ended up rewriting the same record for zillions of times, and, much as I am able to tolerate and sometimes even love their style, it gets tedious after a while. And even this 'trifle' in which they manage to superate the Allmans is not that much. They tend to do 'rock', see, while the Allmans preferred to do 'soul', and I guess I'll take 'rock' over 'soul' any day of my life; but they rarely wrote ear-shattering riffs, gorgeous vocal hooks, or inflammatory lyrics. In sum, Skynyrd were 'mediocre' - perhaps the greatest mediocre band on the planet, at least, one of the best.

On the other hand, Skynyrd were never as musically gifted as the Allmans: their trio of guitarists was impressive, but a single Duane Allman would have lain them flat out in a moment. Not to mention the 'image problem': the Allmans never used the Confederate flag, after all. And, when taken live, the Allmans would easily blow old Lynyrd off the stage - that's not to say that Skynyrd were pretty bad live, that's to remind you that the live Allmans stuff is fantastic. If it weren't for that last overwhelming argument, both bands would share a 'two' rating; as it is, Brothers And Sisters got an overall rating of 13, and I really can't do that to any of the Lynyrd Skynyrd albums I've heard (although I confess I don't own One More From The Road).

Even so, Lynyrd really made some good music. And they were fairly consistent, too, like any 'mediocre' group should. You know that it's a tendency - great bands tend to have great ups and horrible downs, while mediocre bands tend to be consistent? That's easy to understand: great bands are more experimental, while lesser bands stick to the tried and true, so they end up being less important but more entertaining. Although, I must warn you, if a mediocre band happens to lower the plank, the results are pretty scary... ever heard Sabbath's Seventh Star? No? Good!

Lineup: Ronnie Van Zant - vocals; Gary Rossington - Gibson Les Paul guitar; Allen Collins - Gibson Firebird guitar; Ed King - Fender Stratocaster guitar (sheez, these guys really took their duties too seriously); Billy Powell - keyboards; Leon Wilkeson - bass; Bob Burns - drums. Burns left in 1975, replaced by Artimus Pyle. King left in 1976, replaced by Steve Gaines. Van Zant and Gaines perished in an air crash, 1977; the band broke up soon afterwards. Eventually, they reunited in 1987, with Ronnie's brother, Johnny Van Zant, stepping in on vocals and Randal Hall taking up position of third guitarist. They're still up there, actually, and still recording; some of the latter day albums are reviewed on the page, although I must give out an initial warning - don't even think of starting your acquaintance with Skynyrd through the latter day releases.



Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Funny - this long-lost record sounds more rebellious, but less immediately captivating than the finished original product.

Best song: FREE BIRD

Track listing: 1) Free Bird; 2) One More Time; 3) Gimme Three Steps; 4) Was I Right Or Wrong; 5) Preacher's Daughter; 6) White Dove; 7) Down South Jukin'; 8) Wino; 9) Simple Man; 10) Trust; 11) Comin' Home; 12) The Seasons; 13) Lend A Helpin' Hand; 14) Things Goin' On; 15) I Ain't The One; 16) You Run Around; 17) Ain't Too Proud To Pray.

The story behind this album is a long and complicated one. Skynyrd recorded most of these tracks in 1971 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (some of them still featuring the band's first drummer and part-time vocalist Rickey Medlocke, and without Ed King - hey, how's that? You mean there was really a period when Skynyrd were just a two-guitar band?), but they weren't able to secure themselves a recording contract as nobody would accept them - for some dumb reason, the songs were deemed as way too terrifying and unsuitable for the Southern market. Yeah, I understand that today, when you tell somebody that there was a time when Skynyrd were deemed way too 'dangerous' for the general public, that somebody will look at you as a complete lunatic; but you gotta accept this as it's actually true. It wasn't until two years later, when they had teamed up with Al Kooper to produce them, that they were able to make a real record; but by that time, the recordings had a long beard and they just re-recorded all of them - well, not all, some of them.

In 1978 about seven or eight of these tracks were officially released on the 'rarities' album Skynyrd's First... And Last, destined to serve as a memento to the deceased Ronnie Van Zant. But it wasn't until 1998 that the entire sessions have been released on this album; as of now, it consists of a mind-blowing seventeen tracks and has a running time that closely approaches eighty minutes (so it's a great buy for all Skynyrd fans if only because of the length and consistency). Many of these songs have appeared in more 'polished' versions on Pronounced; a couple have surfaced on later albums; and more than half aren't included on any 'regular' album at all, so unless you're an ancient fan who has a dusty copy of First And Last in his collection, there'll be plenty of surprises for you on here.

Oh, it's hardly flawless. I must say that the overall impression of this album (apart from the fact that an 80-minute long Skynyrd record is kinda tough to sit through) is nowhere near as pleasant as the first impression of Pronounced. I won't go into detailed descriptions of any of the songs that overlap between this one and the 1973 debut - detailed descriptions of 'Free Bird', 'Gimme Three Steps', 'I Ain't The One', etc., will follow later on - but it's easy to see the differences in sound between the 1971 Skynyrd and the 1973 Skynyrd. When the band first entered the studio, they were really lean and mean mama: this is all pretty rip-roarin', hard rockin' stuff that hardly even fits the definition of 'Southern rock'. The guitar tones are gruff, the playing more deliberately sloppy, and Ronnie Van Zant growls out the lyrics in an angry, debauched, hoarse tone that he'd never assume after that. Yeah, this is blues-rock, but this is far closer to heavy metal than anything they'd do later; sometimes, bits of this stuff could almost be taken for vintage Deep Purple. 'I Ain't The One' is tense and echoey, far from the half-innocent 'groove' it became later on; 'Things Goin' On' is far more poisonous and distorted; 'Gimme Three Steps' is almost proto-punkish; and as for the 'previously unheard' material, sometimes it's downright scary. 'Preacher's Daughter' jumps along at a terrific speed, with Ronnie barking out the macho lyrics as if his very life depended on it, and 'Wino' and 'You Run Around' feature fierce guitar workouts that the band would hardly match since.

So? The natural question is: do I have anything against that? Well, believe me, I do. Unimaginable as it might be, I actually prefer the more toned-down, smoothed out sound of Pronounced. For one reason only, of course: it's far more adequate. When Lynyrd Skynyrd take on a heavy, gritty approach, they are pretty solid, but nowhere near as efficient as, say, the Stones, whose hard rock bites far more efficiently than the one practiced by these guys. Hell, this kind of sound might not even be better than your average Aerosmith tune - generic as hell, and completely lacking imagination. What I like about my Skynyrd is its trademark barroom style: the kind of debauched, raunchy, but 'user-friendly' sound that they were provided by Al Kooper. In other words, I don't want my Skynyrd to show their teeth: when they do so, the teeth turn out to be pretty rotten, or, at least, just as dirty and yellow as everybody else's. Their approach to lead guitar playing and harmonizing was perfectly suitable to the friendly barroom atmosphere; the kind of songs they play here only show that the band was never able to approach authentic hard rock with enough sincerity and knowledge to get enough credibility.

That said, there's still a ton of excellent material on here - hell, even the tunes from Pronounced are great, since you can't deny the melodies. The melodies are all there, and they hadn't changed a lot on the way to Pronounced. The soloing on 'Free Bird' is just as stunning, for instance - not better, but certainly not worse (and they finish it with a funny quote from 'Bolero', too!) As for the previously unreleased stuff, I wouldn't want to discuss it all, but I'd just like to highlight a couple ballads that are also quite different from everything that the band would go on to do later. 'Was I Right Or Wrong', for instance, is a great display of emotionality, with definite folk elements that make it more authentic and close to your heart than, say, that shitty 'ooh ba-a-a-a-a-by I ne-e-e-e-e-ed you' ditty. Ronnie's vocals are the song's main element - ranging from contemplative and gentle on the verses to sly and cynical on the more powerful choruses. And 'White Dove', one of the few tracks that suffered a bit of editing (it was embellished by string-imitating Mellotrons in the mid-Seventies), is a gorgeous piece of acoustic balladeering - hell, the song might have been a terrific asset in the hands of Joni Mitchell. Okay, not Joni Mitchell. But Joan Baez could certainly make a real treat of it. Okay, I don't care much for Joan Baez, but she sure had (has? haven't heard her for a long time!) a terrific voice, hadn't she?

It is notable, by the way, that 'White Dove' is sung by Rickey Medlocke; it's a pity the guy didn't tarry too long with the band, because his sweet and heartfelt vocals are really a great counterpoint for Ronnie's lazy negligent mumblings. 'The Seasons' is also built on a very similar vibe, but, unfortunately, has a much more pedestrian and nowhere near as inspired melody. Place your bets on 'White Dove', ladies and gentlemen, that's where the masterpiece potential is buried.

On the other hand, some of the material, like the pedestrian rocker 'Wino' and a couple unimaginative shuffles like 'Comin' Home' and 'Lend A Helpin' Hand', do tend to sabotage the positive effect of the record: it's really, really hard to wade through all of it in one sitting if you're not a diehard. I'm still leaving it with an overall rating of ten, because it's a worthy product, and the record companies did a solid job of digging it out and making easily available; but the critics do tend to overrate it. Saying that Skynyrd's First is better than anything else they released is pretty much the equivalent of saying 'I like it far better when Skynyrd were a derivative average hard-rock band'. Isolated, this record goes nowhere; in the context of Skynyrd's entire career, though, it holds up pretty well and is definitely a must for all those who care about the poor late Ronnie Van Zant. Or Rickey Medlocke.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

The quintessential Southern Rock album: what's even more amazing is that it's real good.


Track listing: 1) I Ain't The One; 2) Tuesday's Gone; 3) Gimme Three Steps; 4) Simple Man; 5) Things Goin' On; 6) Mississippi Kid; 7) Poison Whiskey; 8) Free Bird.

Aye, some prefer Second Helping to this one, but I guess it all stems from the mega-success of 'Sweet Home Alabama' and the executive bashing of 'Workin' For MCA'. Actually, the band was so consistent and stylistically narrow (not necessarily in the bad sense of the word), that their first record couldn't help but be their best. Eight songs on here, and all of them, except, perhaps, the somewhat bland rocker 'Poison Whiskey', have quite a bit to offer to both the casual and the devoted listener. This is also kinda unpretentious: they were seven exuberant young lads who'd just landed upon a recording contract and hadn't yet carved out the fabulous 'confederate image'. Just look at the album cover - seven gruff, dirty 'nerds' who look like they'd kill you for a penny (although the lyrics to 'Gimme Three Steps' kinda suggest the opposite).

Anyway, what I really want to say is that their self-titled debut (and yes, it is indeed self-titled: the phrase that everybody takes as the title itself is actually a hilarious 'footnote' to the band's name which, as everybody knows, was adopted in memory of their gym teacher Leonard Skinner whose tastes didn't extend to rock'n'roll machos with long hair - wow, how many periods did I manage to insert here?), yeah, their self-titled debut showcases the boys as a nonchalant, hilarious and daring band of honky tonk bar entertainers that suddenly get the chance of getting their sloppy drunken program on record. Not that 'sloppy' is the right word as applied to this album: the playing is, in fact, extremely tight, and the sound is clear, distinctive and memorable - the least thing you'd expect from a beginning band with three guitarists. 'Sloppy' is rather referring to the general atmosphere of the album - you know, sloppy, lazy, boozy, whatever. The material is more or less equally divided between two types of songs: generic barroom rockers (fast, dirty, mean, amusing and energetic) and generic countryish ballads (slow, soulful, pretty, tasteful and... energetic). The songs rarely drag on for too long, although in a couple of cases they tend to overdo it: 'Tuesday's Gone', for instance, should have been at least a couple of minutes shorter. And the main attraction, of course, are the lethargic, dreamy, lazy vocals courtesy of Mr Van Zant: in some occasions, like on the mad rave-up of 'I Ain't The One', he sounds like he's actually stepped out of the coma he spends his life in for ninety-nine percent, but usually it's just soooo moody and atmospheric that unexperienced people might even wanna doze off. Maybe even on 'Free Bird'!

That's all right by me, though. Let's turn to the songs. The rockers here are outstanding, and easily beat anything they recorded after that. I dunno, I think I didn't quite get it around the first time, but after a few listens the naggin', poisonous little riff of 'I Ain't The One' starts getting under your skin, to the extent that you just wanna do something crrrazy next time you hear it. Plus, the vocal melody? 'I do beliiiiii-eeeeeve!' I do believe it's great. Then there's 'Things Goin' On', the first of their famous 'political' excourses. But the lyrics are not very clever, not to mention their ambivalent ways of interpretation, so I prefer to concentrate on the melody. As generic as might be, yup, but still an impeccable country rocker that's bound to getcha. Just wait for that powerful solo - wow, I can just imagine these guys sweatin' it in some bar in 'sweet Alabama'... 'Poison Whiskey' - hmm, I'm not that impressed by that one, certainly the weakest song on the album: it should have been relegated to some outtakes collection, seeing as it sounds like an inferior re-write of 'I Ain't The One'. But 'Gimme Three Steps'? Man, that song ABSOLUTELY RULES! Who could have thought that such a dumb rhythm, lyrics about bars and girls and poor Ronnie making his escape from some bully for messing with his girl, and a couple of straightforward honky-tonk solos could produce such an adrenaline-raising effect? Hmm, but... if there's a thing in the world it reminds me of, it'd be the Stones' manner of playing live around 1970, especially as captured on those sweaty Chuck Berry numbers on Ya-Ya's. Check out these solos again and compare them to Taylor's work on that album and tell me if I ain't right. Short, economic and immaculately crafted, they work oh so much better than your average guitar heroics. A definite highlight of the album, and I ain't joking, mister!

The slower numbers are also good: usually, I prefer Skynyrd when they try to rock out, but this is certainly an exception. 'Mississippi Kid' is magnificent, just the kind of country ditty I so love hearing - sharp, poignant, with crystal clear guitar work and Ronnie's sly, literally 'tongue-in-cheek' vocals that showcase him as Da Man, this time around, not some sluggard stealin' other peoples' gals. Hah! 'Tuesday's Gone' and 'Simple Man' are somewhat similar in style, except that the first one is a lost love ballad and the second one is Skynyrd's 'Someday Never Comes' ('Mama told me when I was young/Come sit beside me, my only son', all that kind of crap). But both also have moving, inornate melodies that come really close to capturing that perfect 'Southern' essence (how do I know, though? I have never been to the South of 'em USA! Well, I guess that's my personal intuition). And, of course, the magnum opus of the record is 'Free Bird'; the most requested song on the radio after 'Stairway To Heaven', is it? At least it was for some time; funny, how both of these really exceed the radio limits and are still getting endless airplay. But what do I care? I last listened to classic rock radio when I was like about fifteen! So I only heard 'Free Bird' when I first bought the album, and this is my final judgement: the song is indeed quite good. Overrated? Sure, in the same way as everything is overrated. But still good. However, let us not forget that it actually consists of two quite separate parts: the main 'body' of the song and the solo section at the end. Now I do not think that the main 'body' is really better than 'Tuesday's Gone' or 'Simple Man': just another open-hearted, plaintive ode, this time with organ and delicate slide guitar parts to ornate it. The solo section, though, is quite a different thing: that guitar duet (if not a trio - I couldn't swear there are three solo guitars playing at this time) is really something, and I could have easily had four minutes more of that ecstasy, in addition to the already existent four minutes. This is, unquestionably, the best use of a guitar duet on an instrumental passage that I heard in a long long while, and for that the song truly deserves airplay (if, of course, bastard radio stations do not cut it off right after the first half).

Yup, I really like this album. I understand people who hate it, and people who hate Skynyrd in general: it is definitely not the right place to go if you're in for 'sharp sensations'. But these are real good songs, man, not just a bunch of guitar-prowling kids who wish to prove to the world they can toss off a half-professional jam or something. It's fun, it's boozy, it's sincere and it's even a bit dirty. Not a classic, simply because at least half of these melodies are obviously stolen from some obscure or not so obscure blues/country numbers, but a total gas. And something that perfectly fits into my description of the 11-rated albums ('Just Very Good') on the general ratings page.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Similar in style, but thinner in substance: not as distinctive, and certainly not as heartfelt.


Track listing: 1) Sweet Home Alabama; 2) I Need You; 3) Don't Ask Me No Questions; 4) Workin' For MCA; 5) The Ballad Of Curtis Loew; 6) Swamp Music; 7) The Needle And The Spoon; 8) Call Me The Breeze.

Shucks, I'm really not in love with this album as everybody else is. Now certainly, it does have its share of great songs, including the second definite Skynyrd song ('Sweet Home Alabama'), but essentially the fun is over. The boys get more serious and less 'barroom-oriented', one might say: they make endless statements, whether it be their tongue-in-cheek support of the Southern cause ('Alabama'), their ridiculous praise of independence after signing contracts ('Workin' For MCA'), their homage to black musicians ('The Ballad Of Curtis Loew'), or condemnation of drugs ('The Needle And The Spoon'). In short, they're trying to grow as artists, to outgrow the gruff dirty streetboys and become respectable bearded fuck-you attitude 'elder statesmen'. An understandable desire; but these guys don't really have the caliber of the Kinks or, hell, not even the caliber of Neil Young they condemn on 'Sweet Home Alabama'. Thus, the lyrics are simply dismissable, most of the time, and the melodies are often deadly dull. Maybe this, not Pronounced, is the real Bible of Southern rock; but I far prefer the goofy, alcohol-drenched, friendly atmosphere of the former, than the politically twisted, unfunny atmosphere of Helping.

That said, the album still makes for some enjoyable, listenable background music. There are still some fast, solidly performed numbers here, and even if none of them offer the same excitement as the stuff on Pronounced, that doesn't mean they won't get your feet going and your hands clapping and your jaws dropping. Well, maybe my jaws aren't particularly dropping, but if you're a redneck, heh, heh, you'll be delighted. 'Don't Ask Me No Questions' is pretty dumb, for one: even the upbeat brass section doesn't save the melody from being mediocre, and, frankly speaking, this time around I'm not even inclined to believe Ronnie when he sings about liking to play in a honky tonk bar. This one sure ain't 'The One'! 'Swamp Music' and 'Call Me The Breeze' are definitely better in quality, as they're faster: nice little chunks of guitar/piano boogie. I don't quite understand why they separated them in two - it's essentially the same fast blues-rocker, just played in different keys and with different lyrics. Say what you want, but this is the kind of stuff that every honk tonk bar band knows by heart from the very day of its birth, and none of them does Skynyrd justice: even if the solos on 'Call Me The Breeze' are exciting enough. But hah, this must be, like, the ten thousandth exciting solo I've heard in my life, and a solo needs to be real good to save a song like that. Maybe it's the production that sucks? Surely Al Kooper could have made the record sound sharper and more hard-hitting? Then again, maybe he couldn't; Southern rock and terrific production are two things incompatible. And 'The Needle And The Spoon' is simply atrocious, a song completely unmemorable and devoid of any excitement; a nice wah-wah solo, a pedestrian guitar riff and vocals totally muddled by the production and completely unexpressive.

Of course, the fifth fast song on here (actually, it comes first; you may have noticed I'm changing the song order exclusively for my subjective purposes of making a review flow smooth and straight, at least, so it seems to me! Maybe I'm just imagining things!) is 'Sweet Home Alabama', and that one's good. Good, good. Good food. Food goood. The best hymn to Alabama I've ever heard (out of one, that is). Surely they could have made it a state anthem, if only they'd bother to make less straightforward lyrics and didn't attack Neil Young on that one. This 'feud' is quite well publicized, by the way, but I doubt if there's any real controversy on here - would you really think of Skynyrd as supporting Gov. Wallace? Boo boo boo! And then there's the hilarious hymn 'Workin' For MCA', their hardest-rockin' and most testosterone-laiden so far; this one's really rousin' and teasin', although the message is kinda unclear: is this really a word of praise for the company that's going to make 'em rich and famous or is it just another 'much-too-deeply-hidden' piece of irony?

Now, unlike the debut, this one has but two real slow songs, and this is probably a blessing, as one of them completely blows. The ones on Pronounced had one thing about them: they were all written and performed as if the band really cared. These eerie, touching slide guitars, trembling, almost pleading vocals, magnificently constructed solos, all added to the impression. 'I Need You' is an obvious attempt to live up to the tradition, but it fails. The song crawls on like a snail, with murky, emotionless vocal overdubs, and the guitar melody is total crap. No beautiful vocal harmonies which save 'Tuesday's Gone', no impressive quiet acoustic/loud electric interchange which save 'Simple Man', no ferocious solos which save 'Free Bird'. Just crap, and it goes on for seven bleeding minutes. Yeah, it goes on like 'oooohh bbaaaaaby I neeeeeeed yoooooouuuuu.... oooh baaaaby I looooouuuuaaaauuuaaave yooouuu...' I always skip that one.

Which leaves us with the best song on the album - the quiet, pretty acoustic/slide ditty 'Ballad Of Curtis Loew'; I guess I already mentioned the lyrical matter a couple of times, so I'll pass. Besides having the best slide part on the album, it's also about the only song here with enough emotional resonance, and the one which is inexplicably often left off 'best-of' compilations; so, if you ever cared about Lynyrd at all, be sure to pick up this album if only for 'Curtis Loew'. Just a gentle, tender tribute to an old bluesman, very nostalgic and heartwarming.

Otherwise, this is just a classic example of hype overshadowing substance: the fact that the press eagerly picked up the matter of 'Sweet Home Alabama' made it a hit single and the album their best-known, when, in fact, their peak was already past. Let us now correct this sad historic mistake and give Pronounced its due.



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

At least there are some signs of creativity here. Interesting melodies, and a return to the 'bareteeth' sound of old.


Track listing: 1) Saturday Night Special; 2) Cheatin' Women; 3) Railroad Song; 4) I'm A Country Boy; 5) On The Hunt; 6) Am I Losin'; 7) Made In The Shade; 8) Whiskey Rock-a-roller.

Ask any critic and he'll go on raving all about how Second Helping was great and this album was really stagnated and dull and 'never quite managed to take off' and all that crap. Critics are stupid. Just because this album has no all-time hit like 'Sweet Home Alabama' or 'Free Bird' doesn't mean that it never 'takes off' or 'achieves ignition' (two of the most popular Rolling Stone critiques; you'd think these guys were originally in spacecraft constructing business). Sure, it's hard to pick off a favourite of this album. But it also shows significant artistic growth: the diversity of styles they tackle on here is impressive, considering that it's kinda hard to stay in the 'roots-rock' basin and manage to flow in several different directions at the same time. And these songs are rarely generic. Now Skynyrd were never great composers, true, but at least what I see here is several persons painfully trying to step away from the boogie-woogie and soulful balladeering cliches of Helping and doing something, well, if not original, at least something in a style and with hooks of their own, not just nipped from some ancient bluesman.

Not that it grows on you; none of these songs are able to creep under your skin as well as the ones on the debut album do. But on the other hand, this is an album that I found out I wanted to give another listen, while everything was absolutely obvious with the redneck paradise of Second Helping. There are just so many little things and tricks here to fire your imagination - a pity the critics didn't take the time to take a second listen, now.

On the count of 'one two three four' (a trick used on every successive Skynyrd album, by the way), the album opens with 'Saturday Night Special', a rip-roaring condemnation of handguns embellished by fiery guitar solos and moody synthesizer effects. This is sometimes called Skynyrd's most hard-rocking number ever; dunno about that, not having heard everything, but it sure rocks pretty hard for a Southern band. 'Cheatin' Women' is everything 'I Need You' tried to be but failed: same slow, lethargic mood, but the ballsy lyrical matters (Eric Clapton gets sued for such things these days) and the pretty organ passages more than makes up for it. Not to mention that Ronnie's vocals are at least a trillion times more expressive here than on that crappy seven minute 'epic'. Then, after the calm, three uptempo numbers, none of them hits, none of them great, but all quite solid. 'Railroad Song' has a cool groove to it - I particularly love it when they slow down the rhythm to get the impression of a train slowing down. 'I'm A Country Boy' is my second favourite song on the album: there's something stately in the way Ronnie pronounces his death sentence to city civilization. 'I don't even want a piece of concrete in my town', he says, 'I'm a country boy, I'm as happy as can be'. Pedestrian? Banal? Dismissable? Perhaps, but such things often depend on how well you put yourself to it. And this performance is awesome: moody, precise guitar lines interweaving with Van Zant's relaxed, ironic, slightly swagger-swaggering vocals, and all this makes the song a definite 'country life' anthem. Finally, there's the funky, weird, sickeningly macho 'On The Hunt': this one does not particularly impress me at all, but at least it's loud and proud.

Out of the next three songs, I'd like to pick out 'Made In The Shade', a terrific country-blues workout: 'tis one more humble tribute to Ol' Black Blues Man (Ronnie even begins it with saying 'when I was a young-un they used to teach me to play music like this here...'), and the boys once again show that nobody can beat their acoustic/slide guitar attack. By the way, they did this kind of style much, much better than the Allman Brothers, and that's saying something. 'Am I Losin' is just a pretty, simplistic ballad with some deeply hidden charms, and the closing number, 'Whiskey Rock-A-Roller', is just your average by-the-book blues rocker with not a lot to say. Which actually means that it gets worse as it progresses.

Even so, the album is more consistent than Helping; and I insist on that. There were three great songs there ('Sweet Home Alabama', 'Working For MCA', 'Curtis Loew') which cannot be matched by anything on Fancy. But Fancy hasn't got any ridiculous embarrasments like 'Needle And The Spoon' or 'I Need You', either, and, like I said, I definitely see signs of trying here. So what if the songs are mostly slow? Skynyrd aren't that fast a band - they're not your Ramones, and, well, they're not even Deep Purple. There are elements of taste on here, while there are definitely elements of lapse of taste on Helping. Sorry for all these shitty ramblings, folks, especially if you haven't heard either and are wondering why the hell you have to read this: I just want to point out that the critics made a mighty mistake by drawing a deep, definite line in between these two albums and putting the first one above it and the second one under it. It's just the opposite, and if you're going to argue with me, I'll see to it personally that you burn in the hottest furnace in Hell for three hundred thousand years.

(This is such a soul-comforting statement to make, isn't it? Much more pleasant than blurbing out something like 'of course, this is just my personal opinion'. What the heck are personal opinions anyway if you only spend your life waiting for someone to come and disprove them?)



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

This is highly formulaic and stale, with the band clearly playing pro forma; but that's what I like about 'em the best, actually.


Track listing: 1) Gimme Back My Bullets; 2) Every Mother's Son; 3) Trust; 4) I Got The Same Old Blues; 5) Double Trouble; 6) Roll Gypsy Roll; 7) Searchin'; 8) Cry For The Bad Man; 9) All I Can Do Is Write About It; [BONUS TRACKS:] 10) Gimme Back My Bullets (live); 11) Cry For The Bad Man (live).

Another critically disacclaimed record. What the hell? I just don't get the critics. The usual sentence for Gimme Back My Bullets is: 'stale and without a tenth part of the band's old energy' blah blah blah. So okay, it's definitely not in the class of Pronounced, not being the great bloozy barroom classic that album is. But I can't really figure out how the hell it could be any worse than Second Helping. What the hell again? The melodies are okay, not great at all, but catchy enough examples of decent country rock. The guitars roll and tumble, and pretty hard at that, especially when needed. Ronnie sounds just fine, with his usual nonchalant tone on the ballads and his dark menacing growl on the rockers. And though Ed King is long gone and the guitar trio is no more, Gary and Allan's twin guitar attack is quite convincing as well.

I suppose that the reason the critics dislike Bullets so much is the lack of any more or less hard-biting social statements on this record. There's no 'Working For M.C.A' here, no 'Things Goin' On' and even no 'Saturday Night Special'. Ronnie does snort and gruff at society a bit in the title track and a couple others, but it's clear that was not his or the band's main intent on this record. Everything's pretty laid back in that respect: love songs, personal revelations, intimate problems, the usual bunch that goes with Southern blues, but there's definitely no social or political poignancy within lyrics like 'You can't always trust your woman/You can't always trust your best friend', right? Right. And that's completely fine by me - who would I be if I ever listened to Skynyrd for the lyrics? Fortunately for me and humanity, Ronnie never really accentuated these lyrics as hard as, say, Jon Anderson or Robbie Plant accentuated their gibberish (former) or cock-rock posturing (latter). If you wanna read them, do so. I just let myself be entertained by the melodies, because, frankly speaking, the banal [anti]-corporationism of 'Working For MCA' and the primitive problem-setting of 'Things Going On' were never accepted by me as something truly significant to write about. It was always quite enough for me to know that Lynyrd Skynyrd in general were a more intelligent bunch of guys than their lyrics turned them out to be.

But the melodies... well, they don't necessarily rule, but they're still good. The word of the day is "bouncy" - nothing particularly slow or noodling about the record, except for the obligatory "heartfelt" generic country number at the end ('All I Can Do Is Write About It'), which is quite naturally the only song that sucks. Thanks for reminding me of the beauty of the hills of Caroline and the sweetness of the grass of Tennessee in the most lame and predictable manner possible, Ronnie and Co., but that stuff should be left to Garth Brooks or somebody. Huh.

But oh boy, do these rockers cook. The title track is the best, a grim, desperate cry of.... of give me back my bullets, actually. I love the riff, I love the vocal melody, I adore the catchy chorus, I even like the funny keyboard noises along the way - hey, Lynyrd Skynyrd did make good use of keyboards for such a generic Southern rock band, after all. A definite energetic highlight; and another one is 'Cry For The Bad Man', very similar in mood and tone but a bit slower. Theyr are, however, placed at nearly the opposite ends of the album and don't give it a smell of monotonousness. And they both bounce pretty well.

Elsewhere, it's just simple unassuming rockers/ballads with melodies that more or less revolve around the generic 'country-blues with a hard edge' pattern, but with enough hooks to make you forgive the lack of creative spark. Thus, the rendition of J. J. Cale's 'I Got The Same Old Blues' is a very well-performed anthem to the genius of 'otherworldly blues' and almost presages some of the better Dire Straits work. The arrangement treasures the same shuffling Cale guitar sound, though of course Ronnie gives the song his own vocal interpretation; yet his voice has something that unites it with both Cale and Knopfler, I think - that 'nonchalant' nasal twang that gives an atmosphere of reclusiveness and deep-thought-out cynicism delivered with near-convincing sincerity. This can be called an "opinion", I guess, based on an inner feel that might be called "intuition". So much for self-analysis.

Other "middlelights" (no real "highlights" among the other tracks, so let's do some wordinventing) include the pretty cheerful bouncy ballad 'Every Mother's Son'; the old-outtake-given-a-new-look, the unassuming bouncy 'Trust', and the female-backing-vocals dominated bouncy 'Double Trouble'. Oh yeah, there's 'Searching' here, too, which rocks pretty fine and has even a nice emotional ring to it, conveyed by a particularly soulful lead guitar delivery. Some others, probably, too, I just forgot about 'em. I dig it all - on the guts level, at least.

And I also got the rare CD re-release that has live renditions of the title track and 'Cry For The Bad Man' as bonus numbers. Maybe it's not all that necessary (they hardly sound different from the original), but it sure beefs up the running time of the record with solid performances. Or you might just disregard 'em. Hell, you might even turn the CD off after track number nine. Ah, well, you might end up not buying the album at all. Whatever. It's definitely not the greatest album ever put out by the band, and while it's quite consistent overall, there are very few moments that truly stick out - that's why I give it an overall rating of nine and say: 'Here's some more decent generic Southern rock for ya. Dig it, especially since the critics don't.'



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Bringing the house down. Is big, is diverse, is... well, and you don't get to actually see that Confederate flag after all.

Best song: FREEBIRD

Track listing: CD I: 1) Workin' For MCA; 2) I Ain't The One; 3) Saturday Night Special; 4) Searching; 5) Travelin' Man; 6) Simple Man; 7) Whiskey Rock-a-Roller; 8) The Needle And The Spoon; 9) Gimme Back My Bullets; 10) Tuesday's Gone; 11) Sweet Home Alabama;

CD II: 1) Gimme Three Steps; 2) Call Me The Breeze; 3) T For Texas (Blue Yodel No. 1); 4) Sweet Home Alabama; 5) Crossroads; 6) Free Bird.

The main of the two live documents witnessing Skynyrd at their absolute live peak (the other one is the Freebird: The Movie soundtrack, reviewed below). And, say what you will, it is a truly great live album. Maybe even containing all the Skynyrd you really need to hear, but you do need to hear it.

They'd added Steve Gaines on guitar, returning the number of guitarists to three and thus recapturing all the "crunch capacity" of the original line-up. And even if he's clearly the "outsider" in the band at this point (since he's originally from Oklahoma, joking references to Okies and 'gonna set an Okie on ya!' abound in Ronnie's stage patter), it's admirable how well he integrates into the band's overall sound merely a couple months after the "merger". Granted, I can't always tell with these songs where Steve begins and the other two end, but that's hardly a negative, since all the songs are done so well.

For the most part, the setlist here coincides with the Freebird setlist, but no Street Survivors material has been added yet, and there's a couple oddities thrown in as well. Thus, the band gets in a rendition of 'Crossroads' which they apparently learned by heart from Cream's Wheels Of Fire version - right down to the loyally imitated Clapton solos. Of course, they can't hope to replicate every single trick Eric used to throw at his audiences, but at least listening to this song will surely dispel any notion of Skynyrd as a band that could only play three notes at high speed. It comes off as a nice tribute to one of the greatest blues-rock bands of all time, and to a British one at that, mind you.

The album comes in several CD editions - I've got the one that expands the original running length by three tracks, and apparently there's an even grander jubilee re-issue or something which adds like almost half a dozen bonuses. Not that I mind, apparently all of these are just alternate versions (oh, by the way, this here stuff was all recorded July 7, 8, and 9, 1976, in the Fox Theater in Atlanta), and even out of the three bonus tracks I have, one is an alternate version of 'Sweet Home Alabama'. Yeah, they cook on that song, but two versions? Hmm... The other two, though, are inexpendable - 'Simple Man' is, after all, the best song recorded with that title (as opposed to the lameass Bad Company anthem, for instance), and 'Gimme Back My Bullets' is one of the best riff-rockers this band ever churned out, and the meanest and leanest by far.

Elsewhere, I guess you just have to drop all the pretense and enjoy the experience for what it is - a buncha well-meaning, if not too bright, Southern guys gathered to have (and give) a good ass-kickin' time by playing a bunch of revved up, energetic, catchy rockers and a couple sensitive, soulful, catchy ballads. Even the weaker material, like 'The Needle And The Spoon', comes to life on stage, and they get so much overdrive and passion worked out that I don't even have time to notice how dumb the lyrics to the newly composed 'Travelin' Man' would look if I just saw them printed out on paper. Who cares? Even if it can all be summarized (and is) in the endlessly repeated 'travelin' man, that's what I am' refrain, I personally can't resist feeling a little prick every time Ronnie grumbles out 'aaaarrrghhhh that's what I am!'. And speaking of Mr Van Zandt, he's cool. Way cool. Not to mention that he really gives it his all in order to sing, not just yell or mumble every single line of his. Of course, he's not burdened by a guitar or something, but still, his careful exploitation of his vocal chords deserves praise.

Every single song on here rules to a certain degree - the only problem is that in the long run, Disc 1 pretty much seems to be a warm-up for Disc 2. After all, you can have all the 'Saturday Night Specials' and all the 'Tuesday's Gone' and everything you want, but the band's true barroom rednecky anthem-de-luxe is 'Gimme Three Steps', which is always played as it should be: sloppy, headbanging, meaningless, fun, and irresistably catchy. After that, they blow their way through two of the fastest tracks - 'Call Me The Breeze' and 'T For Texas', which I simply can't fathom that a true rock'n'roll fan could ever dislike, with brilliant, breathtaking solos and even some first-rate work from obscure keyboard guy Billy Powell. Then, for all 'em Confederate fans, you have your 'Sweet Home Alabama'. Then the Cream tribute, and finally, an over-extended version of 'Freebird' with the new guitarist giving the old one a good run for his money.

Which reminds me, speaking of 'Freebird' - I've heard several anti-'Freebird' rants complaining about how the soloing on that track is actually pretty simple and how everybody could do it and how it doesn't require any talent. Well, true enough, the runs they play aren't tremendously complex in an Iron Maiden kind of way or whatever. And Steve Gaines ain't no Kirk Hammett or Yngwie Malmsteem either. But I sincerely think that's missing the point. The point would be: where else can you find that kind of pure rock'n'roll excitement pumped out by three guitar guys in total overdrive? I've heard a lot of rock music, yet there's never been a song whose sonic textures would even remotely remind me of the one weaved by Lynyrd Skynyrd on here. Yeah, everybody can probably do it, but not everybody can do it so good, and not everybody will do it. In fact, nobody will do it. And if nobody will do it but Skynyrd, then I don't much care about how simple it is if it gets me a-blood pumpin'. Three cheers for 'Freebird'.

Anyway, you probably got me - this is a cool live album, with a ton-o-fun packed in, and highly recommended for anybody not alergic to the word 'Southern'. Of course, you can skip it and go for Freebird instead, seeing as how both are similar in playing quality and the second one is cheaper. On the other hand, this one definitely wins out because it's bigger, it's funnier, and it has much better sound quality. Much better.



Year Of Release: 1996
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Good document! The rednecks howl a bit too much, of course, but Steve Gaines really cooks on that one...

Best song: FREEBIRD

Track listing: 1) Workin' For MCA; 2) I Ain't The One; 3) Saturday Night Special; 4) Whiskey Rock-a-Roller; 5) Travellin' Man; 6) Searching; 7) What's Your Name; 8) That Smell; 9) Gimme Three Steps; 10) Call Me The Breeze; 11) T For Texas (Blue Yodel No. 1); 12) Sweet Home Alabama; 13) Free Bird; 14) Dixie.

As the title suggests, this is, historically, a soundtrack - to a supposedly fabulous rockumentary featuring the band on their very last tour with Steve Gaines and Ronnie Van Zant. As all the performances are live, captured at one or several shows in July 1977, the album functions perfectly well as just a live record, with no necessary movie connections; good thing, too, as the movie is supposed to be considerably harder to find (though probably well worthwhile).

The big problem with the record is that the shows that provided the material were taped just a year after the release of One More From The Road, and both records are basically superfluous, featuring the same lineup and more or less the same track listing; the minor differences are that One More is longer, thus including more material (the current edition occupies 2 CDs, while Freebird is captured on only one), and Freebird includes some of the first and rawest performances from Street Survivors, the album that they were intending to promote at the time, namely, 'What's Your Name' and 'That Smell'. These differences aren't, however, essential enough to make both records worth buying for somebody who isn't a diehard; therefore, Freebird is rather a collector's item than a serious 'independent statement'.

Nevertheless, the material itself is pretty awesome for Skynyrd. It's especially painful to realise that such a terrific ass-kicking band was plainly stopped in mid-air while it was cruising at lightning speed. The performances are energetic, gritty and completely 'authentic'. With Steve Gaines and Ronnie fully in control, Skynyrd obviously were intent on re-capturing their earliest image: that of reckless, boozy barroom rockers ready to burn the house down at any given moment. Never mind that the actual performances take place in a stadium: this ain't real arena-rock, as the boys' souls are clearly in the instruments and the playing rather than in the image and audience entertaining. And the setlist rules as usual: mostly highlights, hardly any duffer at all.

'Freebird' is still the main attraction of the concert, of course. By 1977, Skynyrd were definitely taking the number a bit too seriously: the song is played at least twice as slow as the regular studio version, so as to let the people 'smack' and soak in every single guitar note and every single change of intonation in Ronnie's voice, not to mention funny bird-imitating noises from the guitars and the obligatory extra-Billy Powell keyboard solo. But when the fast'n'furious solo section comes in, all the pomp is lost and the boys just rock out like nobody else ever did (or could) - and kudos to Mr Gaines for learning his part so well and so quickly.

But even without 'Freebird', the level of energy rarely falls below 'pump-pump'; the boys don't tease us with too many ballads (there's none), and normally the songs are sped up rather than slowed down. Thus, 'Call Me The Breeze' is fully redeemed for the forgettable studio version, as Gaines and company tighten the structure and engage in rapid, lightning-speed sequences of licks that'll send you gasping. 'Workin' For MCA' and Jimmy Rodgers' 'T For Texas' are also highlights, but you probably already know all about them if you've heard One More...

The two new songs (first tried out live, as Street Survivors wasn't even in the process of being recorded at the time of the concert) are also done very well; I've never been a big fan of 'What's Your Name' since it's a bit too derivative for me, but 'That Smell' is great, with perfectly placed female backup voices (The Honkettes) and a terrific soulful vibe throughout. The song is indeed one of Skynyrd's most 'epic' compositions, but, as is common with many 'epic' compositions, it only truly comes to life on stage. As for Ronnie's roarings and all the magnificent solos, they do a fine job of saving the song from sounding hollow and generic.

Any complaints? Well, some. Apart from the obvious complaint voiced above (that the album mostly reduplicates One More), I'm not exactly happy with the sound quality - the audience noises almost overshadow the music at times, and this at a concert recorded in 1977. Go figure. Either the recording was so poor, or the engineers just wanted to share 'the atmosphere' with us, but I'm not too happy either way. The keyboards are mixed way too low down - as if poor Billy Powell belonged to the rhythm section. And, of course, there's no way you can actually tell the three guitars apart when you really want to. This is particularly nasty in tunes whose crunch and potential is hidden one hundred percent in the guitarwork, like 'Gimme Three Steps' or 'I Ain't The One'. On the other hand, after a bit of casual listening one might get used to them; pray to the Lord it ain't a bootleg, at least.

Another complaint, of course, is that this is nowhere near as diverse as an actual Skynyrd record, but what the heck, it's a live experience. It's supposed to be rough and tough and punchy. Who needs a live rendition of 'Tuesday's Gone', for Chrissake? Let's kick some ass now! Look at us - we kick it better than AC/DC!

And there's a one-minute acoustic snippet of 'Dixie' at the end! Raise the flag, boys! Trot out the Lowenbrau!



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Excellent guitars throughout - easily the best performance level on a Skynyrd studio record.

Best song: THAT SMELL

Track listing: 1) What's Your Name; 2) That Smell; 3) One More Time; 4) I Know A Little; 5) You Got That Right; 6) I Never Dreamed; 7) Honky Tonk Night Time Man; 8) Ain't No Good Life.

The album cover displayed on here is not the original one - the original one featured the band standing surrounded by vicious flames. But Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines perished among the flames of the aircraft they were in just three days after the album's release, and naturally, the cover had eventually to be redone, so as not to draw on particularly murky reminiscences. Although, if you ask me, I would have left the original one. Let God's will be God's will...

In any case, while I am not as head-over-heels in love with this album as most of the Southern-rock loving public is, I'd say it's an exceptionally strong record for Skynyrd in any case, and deserves an exceptionally strong ten, maybe even (possibly) a very weak eleven as opposed to the strong eleven of Preserved. The key factor was the addition of Steve Gaines, of course, to compensate for the near-fatal lack of third guitar; and Steve, arguably the strongest and most inventive lead guitarist that ever played in the band, managed to revitalize the stagnating Skynyrd sound. It's not that he had a particularly gritty, or finger-flashing, or powerful style - he was just an interesting player, relaxed, lightweight, yet serious, with a vast range of guitar tones and styles, ranging from the hilarious countryish runs of 'I Know A Little' to the frenzied 'pressure blasts' of 'That Smell'. If there's anything to complain about, it's that Ronnie seems to be a little down in the mix, for the most part; I would be the last to argue that this record is weaker than its predecessor, but there's nothing like the deeply intimate, paranoid confession style of 'Gimme Back My Bullets' (the song) on here - 'That Smell' comes close, but it's still too much of an epic arena-rocker to preserve any intimacy.

That said, most of the songs still kick (pity there's so few of them, though. Eight? I want twelve! I've only started warming up!). They're no longer the bar-tending boogie blooze booze outfit, see? This ain't your typical rednecky stuff at all! Okay, some of it is. That 'Honky Tonk Night Time Man', for instance. But even that one sounds like they're no longer inside the groove - it's as if they were outside it, not participating in the fun but rather observing it and drawing their own conclusions. Sounds natural, though, what with the band probably not having served your average barroom since God only knows when. But count me perfectly happy about it - one typical barroom boogie record was quite enough from these guys, as Second Helping obviously demonstrated. 'Honky Tonk Night Time Man' has deep echoey production, a complex introduction, all kinds of sarcastic banter in between the lines, and a tongue-in-cheek atmosphere that was all but missing on Pronounced. Giddy, hilarious, easy-going... the guys are having some intelligent fun. Good lads. Excellent solo.

But the rest of the tunes are... well, they are the rest! Different, that is. You can bash me over the head, but I'm still not too enamoured of 'What's Your Name' - for such a simple and trivial melody, the song sure got some dumb and repetitive chorus. I don't care if it's brass-enhanced or it was a hit single. Why do good bands always select their dumbest songs for hit singles? What kind of public makes hit singles out of good bands' dumbest songs? Why am I asking these dumbest of questions when the answer is so obvious and so horrible I don't even want to utter it? [Clam up, George].

Anyway, let's concentrate on the multiple good sides. 'That Smell' is one of them. Poor lyrics, for sure; if you want to make a truly effective drug-condemning song, try out something like 'Sister Morphine' instead. But that doesn't mean that the lyrics really don't drive their point home: they do, with a little help from the nice, if generic, melody, deep rumbling bassline, cathartic lead lines from Gaines, well-placed backing female harmonies (for once), and the best vocal delivery from Ronnie on the entire record. Another blues-rocker with an edge is 'Ain't No Good Life', which is slightly put down by out-of-place jolly piano rolls, but saved in time by ferocious wah-wah playing from Gaines... again.

Wanna mellow out? 'One More Time' is a nice and thought-provoking ballad, although the fact that it was actually an old outtake (you can easily find an earlier version on Skynyrd's First) makes me wonder if it was really so problematic for them to sit down and write something new at the time. Wanna boogie in? 'I Know A Little' is one of their fastest and most danceable tunes, with excellent jazzy guitar runs from Gaines, of an almost Alvin Lee-like character. Or else you have 'You Got That Right', another excellent rave-up from the boys. In short, most of this stuff cooks.

Most of it. I don't find myself agreeing with those who claim that the album reinvigorated Southern rock as a genre any time soon, simply because 'reinvigorating Southern rock' is the kind of expression that I really have a hard time trying to understand. But at least it's obvious that Street Survivors really invigorated Lynyrd Skynyrd as Southern rock's best band at the moment, and one can only wonder where the boys could have went next if not for the little plane accident. A little accident that put an abrupt end to Skynyrd's career. Hmm. I have a hypothesis. Fortune didn't want to have Lynyrd Skynyrd outbeat the Allmans, so the band's strongest lineup had no choice but to be destroyed. That's how it goes. Can't cross supernatural forces. Beware!



Year Of Release: 1988
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Just right for a tribute, never mind the consequences.


Track listing: 1) Introduction by Lacy van Zant/Workin' For MCA; 2) That Smell; 3) I Know A Little; 4) Comin' Home; 5) You Got That Right; 6) What's Your Name?; 7) Gimme Back My Bullets; 8) Swamp Music; 9) Call Me The Breeze; 10) Dixie/Sweet Home Alabama; 11) Freebird.

If you wanna peg the latter day Lynyrd Skynyrd as a rotten joke, I'm with you much, if not most, of the way. But it didn't start out that way, I can tell you. The beginnings were quite humble. This here CD, technically, isn't even claiming to be a "Lynyrd Skynyrd" CD. The title may as well be read "Lynyrd Skynyrd Live", where "live" has no diphthong and should be treated as a predicate - as in, "live in our hearts, now and forever". Then you have the "Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour 1987" subtitle, and further down the line, on the back, you have the "Southern By The Grace Of God" subtitle, which eventually came to be known as the standard way to nominate the album. Sure enough, the ridiculous subtitle is pointing out the straight-face Confederate horrors to come, but in 1987, they weren't even thinking of crossing the line. Just looks like an honest-to-God tribute tour to me.

So the worst thing I can say about the whole experience is that it has little purpose other than document the event. Even if there's as many as five original Lynyrd Skynyrd members reassembled for the occasion, and a whole slew of talented guest stars to boot, it can't even begin to hope to beat One More From The Road or the Freebird soundtrack. But on the positive side, it is an interesting document, and I don't see it not pleasing the serious LS fan who already knows his Ronnie era stuff by heart. In the end, it depends a lot on your attitude towards the very concept of a "tribute" thing - be it tour, album, or documentary. If you think that there might be other reasons for this concept than making an extra profit on somebody else's name, and that there are possible ways to make "tributes" look respectable and enjoyable, then I'd say this 1987 tour would be a near-ideal model on how to do it. If, however, the very word "tribute" brings on painful associations of washed-up reunions and talentless imitations, just forget it and let's pretend Ronnie was an only child.

In reality, of course, he was a member of a rather extended family, and you get to know this from the very beginning: "Hello Dallas, Texas! Again, let me tell you who I am! I am Lacy Van Zant, Ronnie Van Zant's, Donnie Van Zant's, and Johnny Van Zant's daddy!" Gee, these crazy old Southerners really do have a convenient way of naming their children, don't they? (I'd betcha anything that any daughters in the family would have been called Bonnie and Connie). Apparently, Donnie was the worse singer of the three, since he only gets to sing backing vocals on a couple of the tracks; Johnny, on the other hand, gets the prime spot throughout. He's not bad, and his voice is eerily similar to big brother's, but with one crucial distinction: no trace of big brother's sly, lazy, nonchalant irony. Whatever subtlety there used to be in the old band's approach gets lost in the deep waters. I'm not saying there ever was such a huge amount of irony in Ronnie's delivery - I don't want to overrate the guy too much - but the statement "Ronnie sharp, Johnny blunt" would still much more probably get an assessment of .T. from me rather than .F., if you know what I mean.

On the other hand, it doesn't matter much here and now, does it? This is tribute, and there's nothing ironic or nonchalant about the death of four people in a plane crash, so why penalise the "tributeers" for not acting like the smart clowns we'd expect them to be under different circumstances? They do their job well. Speaking of "they", they even manage to drag out Ed King, who hadn't played with the band since 1976; and they would have dragged out Allen Collins, too, if he hadn't been paralyzed in a car crash a couple years earlier (he was still part of the tour, nevertheless, assigned the role of "arrangement consultant", whatever that might mean). With King and Rossington on guitars, Billy Powell on keyboards, and the classic Wilkeson-Pyle rhythm section in action, at least the instrumental parts of all this stuff are as close to the classic Skynyrd sound as possible.

The track selection, as you can see, relies very heavily on Street Survivors - although this wasn't really a special point to consider during the actual show, which included lots more material; I suppose the idea was to try and not replicate the old classic live album too much. This is further confirmed by having 'Comin' Home' and 'Swamp Music', previously unavailable live; and 'Gimme Back My Bullets', only tacked on to One More as a bonus track during the CD re-issue process. So, they took some loving care of the selection; that's a plus. On the other side, some of the songs, as a result, are rather mediocre; that's a minus. But hey - you do get to hear them get all jazzy and shit on 'I Know A Little'.

There is one gesture which I - and this surprises even myself - would call really nice. When they get to the end of the show and everybody knows that they're not gonna go out with 'Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo', Johnny says something along the lines of "there's only one man who could sing this song" and invites the audience to sing it instead. And you know what? I hate audience participation, normally, but in this case I'm going to make an exception. Not because it's a tribute to a dead guy or anything, but because it's coherent, that's all. It's not just some bearded sweaty guy bellowing stuff like "aiiyeah whoopdee hoopdee doo" and then thrusting the microphone into the audience for them to repeat it like the meat robots they are. And it ain't the kind of Paul McCartney pseudo-political segregation during 'Hey Jude': "now you on the left side! now you on the right side!". It's a song sung from top to bottom by the audience, whoa-whoa-whoahs and "won't you flyyyyy hiiiiiigh freeeeebiiiird" included. By an audience that does look quite highly motivated. In fact, I'm almost sure that if those people were asked to mimic the three-guitar solo, they would (and it would definitely look more interesting than the ten thousandth recreation by the ex-Skynyrders themselves).

In more good news, the guest stars are reasonable. Third place is being shared by Jeff Carlisi on guitar and Donnie van Zant on vocals, because I could never even begin to make them out in the din. Second place totally goes to fiddler Charlie Daniels, who gets a cool rocking solo on 'Call Me The Breeze', so flashy and fun, in fact, that Rossington has to work real hard to catch up with the excitement (and for a few minutes there, I'm almost a-ready to forget that I'm not in the mid-Seventies any longer). First place, and I dare you people to differ, hands down goes to Steve Morse and his brief shining spot on 'Gimme Back My Bullets'. Now wait, I know you're gonna say Steve Morse doesn't belong in this crowd and all. True, he doesn't, but if he needs to fit in, he fits in, just like he eventually did with Deep Purple, where you could say he doesn't belong either; I mean, is the difference between Steve Morse and Steve Gaines that much bigger than between Steve Morse and Ritchie "Only the Devil Can Replace Me And I Already Whacked Him Out Cold During One Of Those Days" Blackmore?

Thing is, he plays an awesome solo that is, in essence, Southern rock, but he fills it with his patented lightning speed jazzy runs that make it so much better than "generic" Southern rock yet at the same time keep things authentic and digestible for the Dixie-waving crowd. Tight, melodic, and kick-ass, the kind of music that gives finger-flashers their goodie-good reputation. I have no idea just how much, where, and why Morse was ever involved in the Southern rock thing, but I do know that this track is well worth hearing just for its final two minutes.

In short, I "done had my fun" with this album. I did have to empty my stomach first, upon unfolding the booklet and looking at the photos, not because they look old, but because they look so Eighties, fuzzed frizzed bamboozled hair and all (worst of all are the Cyndi Lauperish girls singing backup vocals). But don't judge a booklet by its photos; the music, bad or good, is timeless, and kudos to Billy Powell for not setting up a bunch of sterile hi-tech gadgets instead of the honky-tonk.

Supposedly this should have been the final stop in the Skynyrd story. But then it would probably have been a gruesome challenge to the laws of our times, which firmly state that there is no such thing as a profitable "final stop"; if it's good, you gotta milk it until it becomes bad. (Never mind that what works for cows might not always work for art). Who are we to blame Johnny van Zant, Donnie van Zant, Bonnie van Zant, and Connie van Zant for the latter day profanation? Wouldn't you perform the latest Britney Spears hit in public, naked and tarred, if you were offered a million dollars?...

Okay, bad question. (I know for sure some of you weirdos would have agreed to do it for free). But cut the van Zant family some slack anyway. We all hafta make a living.



Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

A nice enough 'Unplugged' for the revamped Skynyrd - not too substantial, but eminently listenable.


Track listing: 1) Down South Jukin'; 2) Heartbreak Hotel; 3) Devil In The Bottle; 4) Things Going On; 5) Saturday Night Special; 6) Sweet Home Alabama; 7) I Ain't The One; 8) Am I Losin'; 9) All I Have Is A Song; 10) Poison Whiskey; 11) Good Luck Bad Luck; 12) The Last Rebel; 13) Hilbilly Blues.

If you only plan on purchasing one 'new-look' Skynyrd album, this could as well be it. The Johnny Van Zant-led band's studio albums have all received their due amount of hammering and bulleting from the press, but Endangered Species is one record that some of the critics (me included) hold a soft spot for. If for one reason and one reason only: there are but several new songs on here, while everything else is re-worked Ronnie Van Zant-era originals. In fact, the record is something of an 'Unplugged' for the band: all the songs are played in acoustic versions, although I'm not too sure if the recordings are live or not - most probably live in the studio, as there's no audience participation at all.

So my advice is - if you've assembled all the pre-Nineties Skynyrd material and eager to tread this dangerous new water, start from this one; it'll be easier to assimilate the revamped Skynyrd with the older material as a medium. Not that these songs really sound great in their acoustic versions - Rossington and King do their best to bring out their playing talents, but... well, they aren't guitar virtuosos, right? It's the actual chords they play, the actual riffs and solos, that matter; their technique isn't as impressive as that of Clapton, for instance, and most of this acoustic guitarwork sounds rather feeble. On the other hand, they effectively emulate all the old riffs - if you miss the power and sloppy raw feeling of the sound, at least you won't miss its very essence. Oh well. At least they don't do 'Gimme Three Steps'. Man, I can't even figure out how the hell that song could have sounded like in an acoustic arrangement.

The songs themselves mostly date to the earliest years - in fact, all of the old material is drawn from Skynyrd's three first studio albums. Crowd-pleasing gesture? Or 'push the nostalgia dial to a full stop' syndrome? Whatever. Well, in any case, you get to hear Johnny Van Zant sing his brother's old chestnuts within the studio, so one can make out all the delicate nuances... and after sniffing these out for a very, very long time, I must say I'm impressed. There's really something in the genes, there must be: yes, his singing is slightly inferior - he doesn't exactly have that charming nasal twang in Ronnie's voice which was chiefly responsible for the latter's 'careless-sounding', abstractive tone - but he copies all the necessary changes in intonation to a tee, including the 'six-a-feet in a ho-o-o-o-o-ul' and the 'I do beli-i-i-e-ve' hooks in the you-know-which songs. Yes, when you come back to the light and actually think about it, you realize that it might just all be pro forma, but one cannot deny that there is some kind of a Van Zant family magic in this world.

As for the Great Guitar Sound - well, it ain't present here, but there's a moderate guitar sound here, and in any case, it's pleasant. All of these songs are very pleasant to listen to - well performed, and they do have some drive. 'Down South Jukin', for instance, really stood out before me as the humble Southern Rock masterpiece it is: tuneful, intoxicating, and dammit, so Southern, I'm almost tasting a beignet in my open droolin' mouth. Hell, and people keep complaining that 'garbage' like that is littering the radio. Sheez, if Russian radio were constantly littered with such garbage, chances are I wouldn't be so out of touch with the modern world (oh me poor Internet hermit). Then again, I wouldn't have such a rapidly expanding CD collection, now would I?

There's also 'Things Goin' On' - now that one was apparently destined to be played on an acoustic, and the arrangement is sharp and tasteful; the minimalistic guitar sound seems to jump out of the speakers and cling on right to the imaginary acoustic you're strumming at the moment. On the other hand, 'I Ain't The One' definitely ain't the one: the song begs for electric treatment, and no matter how eagerly Rossington and King bend their strings, the number loses almost everything. In general, the numbers that are supposed to 'hard-rock' don't succumb to the boys' softening process: 'Saturday Night Special' is equally a failure, and I never even cared much for 'Poison Whiskey' in the first place. But ballads, like 'Am I Losin', or ye ol' South standards like 'Sweet Home Alabama', are very nice.

As for the 'newer' numbers - apart from making a strange, somewhat pointless choice of Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel', the boys did come up with several new songs (at least I'm not aware of their presence on any earlier records). They are nothing special, though; 'Good Luck Bad Luck' seems to be the best of the lot, but it's not much more than a derivative, not too memorable blues-rocker, and 'All I Have Is A Song' is a bland ballad of interest only to rednecks at heart. Wait, my mistake: the best of the lot is definitely 'Hilbilly Blues', simply because the boys play some funny tricks with the guitar sound. Guess I'm a hillbilly boy at heart, then.

In all, this is very, very mediocre - but not bad. There's not a single reason on Earth I can think of for this record to justify its existence, but let's take its existence philosophically: since it already exists, why blame it if it's enjoyable? I take it that way.



Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

This sure rocks, and makes great background listen. (Hey, pass me da beer, man.) But don't even start looking for riffs.

Best song: VOODOO LAKE

Track listing: 1) We Ain't Much Different; 2) Bring It On; 3) Voodoo Lake; 4) Home Is Where The Heart Is; 5) Travelin' Man; 6) Talked Myself Right Into It; 7) Never Too Late; 8) O.R.R.; 9) Blame It On A Sad Song; 10) Berenice; 11) None Of Us Are Free; 12) How Soon We Forget.

The title is supposed to commemorate the twenty years that passed since the dreadful plain crash that changed so much in Lynyrd Skynyrd's career. But truthfully, the title's almost a sneer - it's easier to find something in common between this particular lineup and, say, Aerosmith (who, since we're at it, have also displayed numerous 'Southernistic' nuances in their rotten late period career), than early Skynyrd. Only Leon Wilkeson, Billy Powell, and trusty Gary Rossington are present from the original lineup; even Ed King is out this time, and he's been replaced by the twin guitar attack of Rickey Medlocke - yes, the same Medlocke that played with the band originally but then quit to engage in the activities of another Southern rock band, Blackfoot, and Hughie Thomasson, formerly of... of... the Outlaws, was it? Anyway, two minor Southern rock bands that were somewhat of a feeble competition to Skynyrd in the good old days; now it's all coming back full circle, and Twenty may be seen as a consolidated effort of all the rusty, but busty Southern rockers to revive the genre's positions. Carry the Southern flag. Reinstall the Confederate faith. Ya know?

Well, they didn't manage anything like that anyway: like most latter-day Skynyrd efforts, this was panned by the critics big time, and for a good reason. The songwriting is totally predictable, derivative and unimaginative - two-chord mid-tempo rockers that don't really go anywhere in particular, lazy countryish shuffles displaying cartoonish, painfully fake 'feelings' and an occasional power ballad or two that doesn't even stand up to 'classic Skynyrd's weakest standards. Funny, isn't it, how these dudes plod on and on and on despite their obvious artistic failures for more than seven years already.

But wait, the record isn't really that gruesome. These guys do know some things, at least. Skynyrd were always more of a 'rock' band than the Allman Brothers, and this time it works to their advantage: where concurrent late-period Allman Brothers' records sound constipated and energyless, many of the songs on Twenty are pretty energetic and rocking. The guitarists sometimes brew up a storm, no matter how generic all these solos are, and there are even a few spots on the album when I feel like I'm falling for the groove: I mean, the melody of 'Talked Myself Right Into It' has probably already been used by a million other songs, but that doesn't prevent me from really shaking my head to the rhythm and playing air guitar on the incendiary instrumental passages. (I totally despise the stupid synthesized horns, though; they should either have brought in a real brass section - were they too hard up for that? - or just left them off the songs at all).

More than that - these songs are really acceptable as sloppy barroom boogies, and that's very good, as sloppy barroom boogies are the essence of Skynyrd in general. No, Twenty is no Pronounced, of course, and could never even hope to be; but the songs are so cheerful, friendly and thoroughly unpretentious, apart from a couple more disturbing (and sucking) rockers, that the barroom atmosphere really sets in even if you didn't ask for it. Makes a good listen at parties.

That said, if you're still reading (and you should be - didn't you know that reading crappy boring reviews actually improves your tenacity?), you should take these two paragraphs above for what they are: my apologies for giving Twenty an overall rating of eight. That's just because it is quite listenable. None of the songs are any good, though. None of them are ridiculously bad, either: just painfully boring, shallow and Un-Innovative when you actually give them a closer listen. 'Talked Myself Right Into It' is slightly better if only because it's slightly faster; and I actually like 'Voodoo Lake' a lot - maybe it's because of the eccentric Southern imagery mixed in with mystics a la Ronnie James Dio, more probably because the melody comes together once in a while and presents itself as some cool folkie chant dressed up as a rocker. But the same tricks hardly work on the obnoxious 'patriotic' anthem 'Home Is Where The Heart Is' and the fakely overenergized 'Berenice', so I suppose there's something more to it.

The final two tracks also come up as a surprise. The Brenda Russell cover ('None Of Us Are Free'; actually, it was written by Brenda for none other than Ray Charles for his 1993 album) is quite effective, if you count out the synthesized horns again; and the song that closes the album is okay if only for the fact that it exceeded my expectations. I mean, what can you expect of a song entitled 'How Soon We Forget', placed at the end of a record? What do you think it is? Well, it's... nice. Not a sappy melodyless ballad by any means; rather a pleasant mid-tempo country-rock ditty that's friendly and nonchalant rather than preachy and sentimental. In this way, Skynyrd manage to plow their way through the fifty-five minutes of the record without any major embarrassments and fizzle out on a thoroughly inoffensive note.

Of course, I don't see the point of the album. It's supposed to be a 'nostalgia trip', but truth is, at this stage in their career Skynyrd already had very little to do with nostalgia; the lineup is quite different, and the tracks hardly sound nostalgic at all - like I said, this hardly reminds you of the original Skynyrd, even in terms of pure atmosphere. Rather this is a half-hearted attempt to keep Southern rock alive, that's why they got all those 'outcast' guitarists from minor bands. Well - if there still is an audience out there for this kind of music, I give 'em my hearty cheers. Better to listen to this, melodies or no melodies, than to Jennifer Lopez, anyway.


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