Album review: 38 SPECIAL – Wild Eyed Southern Boys and Special Forces (2021 Vinyl Remasters)

Snakefarm Records [Release date 30.07.21]

In 2008, a major fire in Universal Studios’ Hollywood Warehouse devastated the company’s music archives. 38 Special were one of the bands to suffer a significant loss…and if nothing else, that gives these releases added resonance.

The master tapes of Wild Eyed Southern Boys, and Special Forces – two of the band’s definitive rock albums of the eighties – escaped destruction. And it’s hard not get excited when you further discover that they have now been dusted down and polished up using today’s cutting edge technology, and subsequently re-committed to vinyl.

The original releases, in 1981 and 82 (effectively their fourth and fifth albums) had signalled a game changing shift in style for the band. Vocalists/guitarists Donnie Van Zant and Don Barnes had the foresight to see which way the rock’n'roll wind was blowing. And so these two albums were a mix of Southern Rock’s storytelling tradition and the ascendant Stadium Rock emanating from the US westcoast.

Producer Rodney (Lynyrd Skynyrd/Gregg Allman/Doobie Bros) Mills drafted in acknowledged genre giant, Jim (Survivor) Peterik, to add his commercial nous to the band’s songwriting approach. Several singles popped out of each recording.

‘Caught Up In You’, ‘You Keep Runnin Away’, ‘Fantasy Girl’ and ‘Hold On Loosely’, were all fully formed blasts of hard driving southern rock tempered with accessible hooks and catchy choruses. They all charted, pushing album sales up into multi platinum territory.

These remasters sound fresh and new. As always, it’s a band’s early stuff that benefits most from remastering, with vinyl buffs and audiophiles being the target audience.

The early eighties are not well known for durable recording technology. Given that, this remastering is all the more impressive. Maintaining the warmth and depth of those original analogue recordings, while at the same time achieving a surprising amount of sonic separation and loudness, is quite some feat.

The main beneficiary is lead guitarist Jeff Carlisi. Almost every track is laced with his razor sharp, cranked up axework, and there’s just enough friction in that transfer from vinyl to needle to create an extra frisson of excitement in our auditory perception.

Job done, as the saying goes. ****1/2

Review by Brian McGowan


David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 12 September 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at www.getreadytorock.com for that week.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 14 September 2021.


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