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Old 10-01-2021, 08:01 PM   #8 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Originally posted in The Playlist of Life, September 21 2012 (I swear, the dates really are just a coincidence!)



Last of a Dyin' Breed - Lynyrd Skynyrd - 2012


Nationality: American, duh!
Genre: Southern Rock
Familiarity: "Freebird", "Sweet Home Alabama". That's it.

A sadly appropriate title in more ways than one, Lynyrd Skynyrd's latest album sees them reduced to one remaining original member, as those who survived the horrible plane crash that wiped out half the band in 1977 have left the band, passed away or been in some cases forced out, one by one. Remaining founder member Gary Rossington is however joined by some big names, including former member Ronnie Van Zant's younger brother Johnny, Blackfoot's Rickey Medlocke and the aptly-named Peter Keys on, well, keys. Overall, allowing for the hiatus the band took during the period 1977-1987, following the tragic crash and the loss of their friends and bandmates, this is Lynyrd Skynyrd's thirteenth album (not including a Christmas one; who does?) - let's hope it's not unlucky for them, although some would say that the guys have had more bad luck than any rock band should ever expect to, or deserve.

The familiar sound of the growling slide guitar opens the album before the drums thunder in and things get truly rockin' with the title track, and the Skynyrd train is rollin' again, full speed down the tracks! Hell, it might be the seventies! No-one would ever think to level the description of progressive in Skynyrd's direction, nor I think would they want to be seen as such. There's no real need for their music to develop; it's perfect as it is. The formula works, why mess with it? These are, after all, the godfathers of southern rock, and while you may be able to teach an old dog new tricks, you also risk getting bitten. Or to put it another way, if you grab a rattlesnake by the tail, better make sure you've got protective gloves on!

Slower and bluesier is the grinder “One Day at a Time”, with a great twin guitar attack and some fine vocal harmonies, a real workingman's song. Of course, I should point out that most if not all of the members of Skynyrd mentioned above have been with the band for years: it's just that this is the first of their albums I've heard since, well, ever. I have to admit to knowing nothing of theirs past “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama”; just never got round to it. To be honest, I really didn't think they were still around, but they're certainly proving me wrong, rocking with the same power and downhome honesty that characterised their popularity in the seventies and on into the late eighties and beyond. One new member though is ex-Black Crowes bassist Johnny Colt, who seems to fit right in, as if he's been here for years. “Homegrown” ups the tempo a little more, throwing in a good dose of ZZ for good measure, with powerful squealing organ from our man Peter.

Speaking of Mister Keys, there's a totally beautiful gentle piano intro to “Ready to Fly”, with just Johnny's voice accompanying it till some what sounds like violin comes in, shortly followed by the guitars and drums. A real southern rock ballad, with fine slide guitar and a heart as big as Texas. Er, Alabama, I mean. Okay, okay! Florida! Just doesn't have the same ring, y'know? Anyway, great big guitar solo that just rips the heart right out of you as Rossington lets us know he's still around, and not yet ready to ride into the sunset and follow those surviving bandmembers who have left the ranks. He certainly sounds like he's enjoying himself, as does Ronnie's brother, doing his late sibling proud. Some lush string arrangements add the final layer to this song, which at the moment I pick as the standout. It's also the longest track, just under five and a half minutes.

Surely must be a banjo starting off “Mississippi Blood”, though none is credited, but I wonder could that be Rickey Medlocke's grandfather Shorty, being drafted in? Nah, surely he'd have passed on by now! He sounded in his seventies or older when he guested on Blackfoot's “Rattlesnake Rock and Roller” back in '81. Tempo continues to rise with “Good Teacher”, one of those good ol' rock songs about “wimmen”, then there's a tear coming to my eye for the poignant “Something to Live For”, with some deep soulful, almost gospel organ from Keys and a deep political message in the mould of Springsteen or Earle. You can hear the pain in Johnny's gravelly voice as he sings about the breakup of his relationship, linking it subtly to the breakup of society in the USA, and that pain comes through almost as a palpable force through the emotional guitar solo unleashed by Gary Rossington.

The only song on the album not written by Skynyrd, “Life's Twisted” seems to have been composed by two of the members of Black Stone Cherry, and it's a good edgy rocker with a great piano and organ line, but true to their reputation Skynyrd are in fact first and always a guitar band, and this is shown by their having no less than three guitarists, in Medlocke, Rossington and Mark Matejka, with Marilyn Manson's infamous Johnny 5 even adding additional guitars! This all shows in hard rocker “Nothing Comes Easy”, another workingman's anthem with a real boogie feel to it, and not surprisingly some excellent guitar solos.

With a sort of feedback start and somehow putting me in mind of the American Civil War, “Honey Hole” is not what I expected at all. With a title like that I thought we'd get a rabble-rousin', drinkin', screwin' goodtime song, but though it breaks out for the chorus into a big guitar sound, the song is mostly hard acoustic, with harmonica and slide, then halfway in we get the big southern rock guitar part we've been waiting for, and it has been worth the wait. Quite a lot of Zep in this one, methinks. And we close on the philosophical “Start Livin' Life Again”, a powerful blues statement of intent, with banjo and some truly exquisite guitar from Rossington; if ever a man let his instrument do his talking for him, you're hearing it right here.

Earlier I voiced the hope that this, Lynyrd Skynyrd's thirteenth album, would not be unlucky for them. Having listened to this, I think I can promise that's very unlikely. I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more in the coming years from the kings of southern rock, as it seems this is one band that stands up even to death himself. Don't fear the reaper? Don't think it ever crossed the minds of these guys! They just go from strength to strength, laughing in the face of adversity - well, perhaps not laughing, that would be disrespectful to the memory of their fallen comrades. But they keep that memory alive by continuing on the legacy Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and the others started, and making sure their work goes on.

As Frank Marino once remarked: ain't dead yet.

TRACK LISTING

1. Last of a Dyin' Breed
2. One Day at a Time
3. Homegrown
4. Ready to Fly
5. Mississippi Blood
6. Good Teacher
7. Something to Live For
8. Life's Twisted
9. Nothing Comes Easy
10. Honey Hole
11. Start Livin' Life Again

Rating: 9.8/10
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