earMUSIC [Release date 24.07.15]
There’s nothing quite like an enduring back catalogue and a whiff of nostalgia to bring out the fans. And seeing as Bob Dylan, The Doobie Brothers and The Allman Brothers etc., have all plundered their back catalogue, why not Skynyrd as well you may ask?
Perhaps it depends on whether you still buy into the current band as a true representation of what Skynyrd used to be? After all, this double set relies heavily on the Ronnie Van Zandt era songs, suggesting that for all the band’s longevity, it’s the pre-crash songs that still drive the Skynyrd juggernaut forward.
Also, given the mix of rock, roots, country and blues players, the aim is clearly resell the back catalogue to a wider, if not necessarily younger audience.
Someone was also smart enough to make a marketing connection between the band’s 1976 ‘One More For From The Road’ album (which raised funds for the venue for this Skynyrd celebration) and the album in hand. But there’s still the job to be done of recycling an over familiar back catalogue. And on balance the band just about pull it off, though it’s the guests on some lesser celebrated cuts that really sparkle.
Randy Houser opens with a flourish on ‘Whiskey Rock & Roller’ to suggest that country and Heartland rock are natural bedfellows, while Robert Randolph slides ferociously all over Jimmy Hall’s vocal on ‘You Got That Right’.
Aaron Lewis is less successful on ‘Saturday Night Special’ as he manages to make an intense southern rock song sound ponderous. In sharp contrast, ‘Blackberry Smoke’ redresses the balance with a ripping ‘Working for MCA’ on a song well suited to their brio.
Cheap Trick surprisingly hit base with a bone crunching version of ‘Give Me Back My Bullets’, while John Hiatt’s gnarled timbre tackles the obscure ‘Ballad of Curtis Loew, a song the original band hardly ever played.
There’s an initial muted response to Gov’t Mule’s cover of ‘Simple Man’ until the riffs kick in and then band give the song a trademark lift. A combination of Warren Haynes phrasing and gospel bv’s also brings a welcome soulful feel to ‘That Smell’.
Jamey Johnson’s poignant growl and Dobro inflected ‘Four Walls of Raiford’ further pushes the project across the musical divide to close the first CD.
Drive By Truckers axe man Jason Isbell adds some hot rockabilly picking and bristling slide on a swinging ‘I Know A Little’ – a track full of pumping horns and rolling piano – and Peter Frampton overcomes the odds with an exuberant ‘Call Me The Breeze’, to confirm just why the Skynyrd band wagon keeps rolling.
Charlie Daniels receives a justified ovation for ‘Down South Jukin’, spoiled only by the kind of horrible crowd edit that spoils most of the CD double set.
Gregg Allman overcomes a horrible synth opening to add a timeless vocal on a deep ballad ‘Tuesday’s Gone’. And such is the march of modern technology that Johnny Van Zandt and replicates the duet with his late, older brother Ronnie on ‘Travelin’ Man’ , originally cut on the 1997 ‘Twenty’ album.
The inevitable ‘Freebird’ is given a workmanlike vocal by Johnny and the anthem finally burns when the guitars harmonise thrillingly and lead to one of the most familiar crescendos in rock music.
Everyone pitches in on ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, except for Artimus Pyle a notable absentee on a night for the fans. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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