Album review: LYNYRD SKYNYRD – Nothing Comes Easy

Cherry Red Records (5CD Boxset) [Release date 26.02.21]

Arguably, it’s only when your roots run as deep and as wide as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s that you achieve the kind of longevity that sees you still running hard today, 48 years, 15 studio albums and 6 Record labels after your 1973 debut.

Most will know that in 1977, after only 5 albums, vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Jim Gaines died in a plane crash. So this cherry picked clutch of later life albums comes from the post ’87 reformation band, when Johnny Van Zant stepped into his late brother’s shoes. And we are so familiar with the Skynyrd sound that’s it’s easy to forget it came from the band’s quite natural fusion of downhome country, cowboy blues and seventies guitar rock.

The album Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991 honours that rich heritage.

Legendary producer Tom Dowd gets the best out of this new line up, effectively telling us – here is a band still with strength and purpose, with nothing to lose but maybe something to prove. Wisely, they brought in a couple of Nashville songsmiths to add an external perspective. Both Todd Cerney and Robert White Johnson were successful country rock writers. Their contributions to ‘Pure And Simple’, ‘I’ve seen Enough’, and ‘Smokestack Lightning’ all fed into the band’s Southern rock aesthetic. Longtime fans breathed a sigh of relief. Rock fans new to the band were ready to investigate further.

The follow up, the emotively titled The Last Rebel (1993) could have been so named to appeal to the ‘South Will Rise Again’ elements in their fanbase. But that notion was simply a cultural carry over from the band’s beginnings. Still, it struck a chord. The music may not have reached the heights of their indisputable seventies’ commercial peak, but the title track, ‘The Last Rebel’, and ‘Born To Run’ written by Johnny and Donnie Van Zant are up there. As well as the originals, both come as special edits and acoustic version bonus tracks on this CD.

Jump to 2009, and Gods & Guns. Guest appearances by John 5 and Rob Zombie may have raised a few eyebrows, but producer Bob Marlette gets the absolute best out of them. The John 5/Marlette/ Ricky Medlocke/Van Zant ‘Southern Ways’ is as good as anything from the past. The all band-written affair ‘Still Unbroken’, would have stood out on any of the seventies’ recordings. They helped propel the album into the US Billboard Top Twenty. Their highest charting album since 1977.

It comes with a 6 track Gods & Guns bonus CD, effectively CD 4 of the boxset, the highlights of which are the three live tracks recorded at the Freedom Hall in Lousiville, Kentucky. Finishing with the post 9/11, everyman patriotism of ‘Red, White And Blue’; the moving tribute to JJ Cale, ‘Call Me The Breeze’, and the churning complexity of perennial classic ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is an almost incomparable way to close out any gig. To quote an overused cliché (aren’t they all), these three on their own almost make buying the boxset an obligation.

Last Of A Dying Breed (2012) sees the band putting a heavy handed emphasis on the hard rock component of their classic sound. It may not fit with every hardcore fan’s memory of past greatness, but it was a brave and commercially astute move. This was their “we’re not in the seventies anymore” album.

The anthemic ‘Nothing Comes Easy’, one of the album’s standouts, is of course where this collection takes its name.

John 5 and Audley (Black Crowes/Cry Of love) Freed, along with Bob Marlette (who again produced) made a considerable songwriting contribution. ‘Ready To Fly’ and ‘Something to Live For’ both push the band (if somewhat reluctantly) into the moment. The title track, again helped along by a couple of outside writers, is a peach. On its own it takes you, emotionally, from the band’s beginnings to where they were then. And it’s quite some 4 minute journey.

Another half a dozen bonus tracks (and they are genuine bonus material) round out this fifth and final disc. ****

Review by Brian McGowan

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