Frontiers [Release Date 26.02.20]
The Outlaws are a too easily neglected part of southern rock history, enjoying success with a unique style that combined melodic, almost country-ish songwriting with the sonic attack of what became known as the ‘triple guitar army’.
Like most of the giants of that scene, they have lost many members prematurely and had a revolving door of line ups but a current version is fronted by one of their original co-singers in Henry Paul, with drummer Monte Yoho also still on board, and so there is a greater lineage to the original than many of their contemporaries.
This is their first album in eight years and kicks off with a real statement in ‘Southern Rock Will Never Die’, opening with those trademark guitar harmonies, with a catchy chorus and plentiful solos, while name checking various members of the Outlaws, Skynyrd, the Charlie Daniels Band and Marshall Tucker who are no longer with us.
When it is followed rather unnecessarily by a re-recording one of their old seventies classics in ‘Heavenly Blues’ I briefly worried they were taking the legacy album concept too far.
However the album has all the Outlaws hallmarks in a positive way – the chugging rhythms of the title track are accompanied by some Allmans-esque guitar work which climaxes in a jam at the end, and ‘Overnight from Athens’ combines a country feel with great twin guitar passages. Even ‘Endless Ride’ which begins in a sedate, even plodding fashion, breaks into lengthy guitar solos.
Henry’s own gravelly, rough-hewn vocals are as rich and comforting as a barrel-aged bourbon as he tells the lyrical themes of the old South- horse riders, open highways, and the great outdoors.
However ‘Dark Horse Run’ features a different, smoother singer who I would wager is Dave Robbins, Henry’s old bandmate from hit country band Blackhawk who has now joined the Outlaws camp. The song has a smooth, almost Steve Miller Band feel to it, but rest assured the guitar solos are still present, this time with an organ solo too.
The biker style ‘Rattlesnake Road’ is lighter-hearted but perhaps one of the weaker songs, while ‘Showdown’ is a tasty instrumental again with an Allmans vibe, and ‘Windy City’s Blue’ – a resurrection of a demo from the early seventies- laid back but again exploding into guitar action late song.
The album closes with more southern nostalgia in ‘Macon Memories’ (geddit?), name checking the Allmans and their songs as well as other contemporaries. Indeed not since Molly Hatchet’s ‘Gator Country’ mentioned the Outlaws themselves have I heard more references to fellow southern musicians in a single song.
For a late career album, this is a really strong effort, lovingly done, and if it is their last a fitting requiem both for them and their southern contemporaries. ****
Review by Andy Nathan
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