Skynyrd are to southern rock what your ma's secret recipe book is to home cooking. It don't matter what you add, or how you change things, the old originals are always the best.
While the Allman Bros may have invented southern rock, Skynyrd defined it so whether you are a fan of southern rock or not, you will have found it difficult to avoid the history of the great Lynyrd Skynyrd. So y'all should know about Skynyrd by now; how they crashed and burned in a Mississippi swamp back in 77 and then rose once again, phoenix like ten years later, from the ashes; how, at the time of counting, the band has left a trail of bodies in its wake, how there is only one (arguably two) original member left in the band and how 'Sweet Home Alabama', an incorrectly mythologized retort to Neil Young's 'Southern Man', is one of the most misunderstood songs in rock history. The tales of the fightin', the drugs, the booze and how you simply just didn't, and still don't mess with The Honkettes are just too numerous to avoid.
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There are two distinct eras to Skynyrd. The first era is where you will find all the real good stuff. Y'know, like 'Down South Dukin'', 'Gimme Back My Bullets', 'Call Me The Breeze' and yes, 'Freebird'. It was a period that saw the band pop out one classic album after the other from 'Pronounced...' to 'Street Survivors'.
Post plane crash, the second era saw albums that were patchier, never coming close to the earlier classics. Yet the tours saw the band play bigger and bigger venues until now they can easily fill enormodromes worldwide, just as Ronnie first envisaged.
Now we have 'Last Of A Dyin' Breed', the follow up to 'God † Guns'. Not an easy job admittedly, but an opportunity to capitalise on the good work 'G † G' did and finally grab fortune with both hands. Have the band managed it? Er, maybe.
This version of 'Last Of A Dyin Breed' is Classic Rock's special edition fan pack. You get the album with four bonus tracks, two studio and two live out takes, a hundred and thirty page mag, a badge and a poster. It's a slick professional presentation; the mag tells you everything you'll ever need to know about the band though the poster and the badge are a bit surplus to requirements to those over a certain age.
The CD itself comes as a hard back booklet with next to no info at all. No lyrics. Nothing. Some nice pics though.
And the music? Well, if you are looking for the old sound, forget it. This record is for those who discovered 'Sweet Home Alabama' via Kid Rock rather than on the OGWT. If you like your swag to come out of the smoother hinterlands of FM radio like the AOR of late .38 Special and Bob Seeger, this is for you.
With 'God † Guns' being such a strong album the band decided to change tack so gone is the overtly rootsy Americana to be replaced by a more modern driven groove that gives 'Mississippi Blood', 'Nothing Comes Easy' and the Nickelback baiting 'Homegrown' their low down grunt. Though the new age does not totally get its own way with the jaunty country rock of the opening title track with its subtle Allmans motif and a deceptively lazy slide intro and 'One Day At A Time' still whisper of former glories and the honky tonk twelve bar of bonus track 'Do It Up Right' screams for a full blown horn section just like the great Frankie Miller used to do it and the swampy 'Life's Twisted' has a weary finger picking roll to it. Throughout there is some nice country slide picking yet there's an overall modern zip to this album that should see Skynyrd take over the damn planet.
Yet 'Last Of A Dyin' Breed' is top heavy with the overblown arena balladry. What should have been a final declaration of intent; a rollicking charge of grim determination, we get an album that whilst brim full of southern good ol' boy attitude is far too reliant on maudlin sentiment to beef up the southern credentials of the album; an over reliance on sentiment that might just be all for the band if they are not careful with their PR.
I love this band but I'm not, like many others, going to gush over 'Last Of A Dyin' Breed' like it's the second coming, because it simply isn't; it's too slick, the song writing too generic and the hick town country/blues/rock mix is all wrong to make it an obvious go to Skynyrd album. There are no bad songs here but nor are there any outstanding ones. I can't tell you how badly the likes of Allan Collins, Ronnie Van Zant, Ed King and Billy Powell (and the rest) are missed here and listening to 'Last Of A Dyin' Breed', I don't think I'm alone in thinking that.
Though Skynyrd is no longer the Stones killer of yore, the new boys have enough experience (with stints with Charlie Daniels, Nugent and Black Crowes under their collective hats) to make sure that despite its faults 'Last Of A Dyin' Breed' is still one hell of a good rock n' roll album, it just isn't a great southern rock n' roll album.