Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
It’s beyond questioning that Skynyrd are genuine American music legends. A rough, tough, brawling bar band from the South, their brand of revved up country, blues and hard rock cut through the bull and appealed to the blue-collar workers the world over.
Tales of love won and lost, brotherhood and the freedom that we all strive for became their rallying call and people were happy to join the party in their thousands. Their star was in the ascendency, the incredible set they played at Knebworth cementing their reputation and the word of mouth was spreading like wildfire.
Here was a band to be truly reckoned with, their hard work and determination taking them from the back rooms of every back room chicken wire hothouse venue in their home state of Florida to the biggest stages in the world. We all know what happened next.
Whilst the tragic crash in October 1977 brought a terrible ending to the line-up that made the magic of those first few albums, the story was far from over. When the band did finally and respectfully reconvene, with Johnny Van Zandt ably filling the powerful shoes of his late big brother Ronnie, they came out all guns blazing, determined to honour their fallen bandmates memories and music.
‘Nothing Comes Easy’ covers the period of 1991 until 2012 and includes four albums: ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991’, ‘The Last Rebel’, ‘Gods and Guns’ and, to date, their last studio outing ‘Last of a Dying Breed’.
Whilst none may quite catch the urgency and tooth and nail rough edged electricity of the classic albums, there’s still a lot to recommend them and they stand head and shoulders above over most of the Southern Rock pretenders who tried to steal their crown.
What really sets Skynyrd apart is the blend of superior musicianship and songwriting skills they bring with them, that working man honesty standing at the centre of all their output.
Whilst the band has seen members come and go, that bad luck that has seemingly dogged a lot of their career robbing them of some real talent along the way, they have always been survivors and the albums are marbled with the defiance and spirit that has kept the wheels rolling.
Central to their drive, original guitarist Gary Rossington still carries the weight of their legacy on his broad shoulders, his playing central to their sound and head held high.
Getting the phenomenal Rickey Medlocke back in the band was a master stroke, the former Skynyrd skinsman turned frontman / guitarist with Blackfoot was the perfect fit, his years of history perfectly complimenting his old friend, the two a formidable pairing.
Of course, they have shared the stage with a number of other six stringers to bring that signature three prong attack and the combination is used to great effect throughout this collection.
Scattered throughout this five-disc collection you’ll find some of their modern gems, each album yielding its own highlights. There’s a real boisterous feel to ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991’, the band opening with ‘Smokestack Lightning’, a rolling rocker that recaptures some of that earlier swagger.
From ‘Backstreet Crawler’ all muscles and malice to ballad ‘Pure & Simple’, here is a band declaring they have the heritage and range to carry on flying the flag into the future.
This renaissance continues with ‘The Last Rebel’, the title track and ‘Born To Run’ especially good as both fit into the extended, guitar epics mould set by ‘Free Bird’. Things are turned up a notch on the following ‘Gods And Guns’, the album one of the heaviest the band have put out and shows that they
could still equal younger bands like fellow Southern bruisers Black Stone Cherry in regard to the energy and blazing conviction of their playing.
Not that Skynyrd had anything to prove to anyone else and with guests like Rob Zombie and John 5 cropping up, it was obvious who the masters were, Rossington and Co doing what they love and pushing themselves to be the best they could.
When your first track is the rollicking ‘Still Unbroken’ and the anthemic ‘Skynyrd Nation’ kicks in, you know that this band is taking no prisoners. The album is augmented with the six-track disc that brings three newer tracks in the form of the ballsy ‘Bang Bang’, a joyous blue-collar ‘Raining In My Heartland’ and the grooving ‘Hobo Kinda Man’ along with standards like ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.
The bittersweet title ‘Last of a Dying Breed’ could be seen as something that foreshadowed their farewell tour just a few later years, but this is another show of strength, rather than any admittance of writing on the wall. Tracks like ‘Homegrown’, ‘Good Teacher’ and ‘Low Down Dirty’ proved once and for all that this was no heritage act and they were still hungry, ready to make new fans to add to the legions already there.
With a modern production and the years of experience, honing their craft this was another triumph by a band that proved that strength comes from within.
Sure, the older tracks like ‘Freebird’, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and a dozen or so others are bonafide classics, but there’s so much more to their tale and this new box set proves that beyond doubt. Lynyrd Skynyrd, the original and still the best.
Serious American Rock