Sound: Lynyrd Skynyrd's 13th studio album, "Last Of A Dyin' Breed", is a strong release for the world of southern rock. There are 11 tracks on the album, with a runtime of approximately 45 minutes which is a pretty respectable length for a new album. There is a "Special Edition" version of the album with an additional 4 tracks that adds about 15 minutes to the total runtime of the album. The material is all new, and seems to range sonically from southern rock into blues with a healthy dash of country. Lynyrd Skynyrd has had a weird career, beginning with their first album release in 1973. From there they released 5 albums with the original members before the plane crash in 1977, just three days after the release of their 5th album "Street Survivors", that took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and back-up singer, Cassie Gaines. After this there was a 10 year hiatus and Lynyrd Skynyrd returned in 1987 with members Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Artimus Pyle. Ed King had previously played guitar for Lynyrd Skynyrd, but had left the band two years before the plane crash, and he returned with the band in 1987. Ronnie Van Zant's brother, Johnny Van Zant, took over vocals in 1987. Since that time they have once again operated as a very successful touring band, and fast forwarding to the present we only have one original member left Gary Rossington.
"Last Of A Dyin' Breed" starts out strong with the title track, which was also their first single, which was released on iTunes on July 9th. The songs range in style from hard southern rock, to blues, to country blues, to straight up country music. They worked with John 5 in the studio, who contributed "Additional Guitar", so I did have some fun listening to the album trying to pick out John 5's parts. The bass duties on the album were handled by Johnny Colt for the first time, who was a founding member of The Black Crowes and has also played bass for Train. The album runs the gamut in styles and genres between southern rock, blues and country, but does so in a way that listening from start to finish the album is still cohesive. The guitar licks are pretty inspired throughout the album as an example, my taste in country is very limited to older country but I still found myself wanting to figure out the little country licks being played. The vocals are still being covered by Ronnie's younger brother, Johnny Van Zant. // 8
Lyrics: Johnny Van Zant has been providing vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd since 1987, and has really become more the voice of Lynyrd Skynyrd than the original vocalist, Ronnie. They've always prospered especially as a touring band, which is a quick way to make sure you have your chops together, and Johnny absolutely has his chops together as a vocalist. Stylistically, Johnny has always executed his vocals almost identically to the way his brother Ronnie performed vocals, which manages to continue to carry the band today without disrespecting the memory of his brother. There is nothing to complain about in his vocal performance, not in the context of Lynyrd Skynyrd. I was a little more concerned with the lyrics, however, as they were pretty quick to get into the realm of being a little cheesy. The song "Homegrown" for instance seemed at times to be talking about a woman and at others talking about marijuana. I personally felt like they listened to Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and made their own derivative. Some songs are lyrically stronger than others.
From the title track, the lyrics are as follows: "Got a pocket full of memories and my song/ Got to keep on movin' and rollin' on/ When I'm playin' for keeps, I always win/ Don't know where I'm going, but I know where I've been, yeah/ Looking back when I was a boy/ A hand-me-down bike was my toy/ A barefoot brother who gave me hell/ I Learned from the best who taught me well/ I hear that highway calling/ Oh, feel the breeze/ I've been around playin' and/ gamblin' but Lord I'm free/ Saddle up baby, ride up close to me/ An open highway's all I'll ever need/ Last of A Dyin' Breed/ Last of A Dyin' Breed/ One horse towns and one night stands/ Just like my daddy I'm a Travelin' Man/ I'm not the kind to settle down/ The roar of the engine/ I love that sound". I took out the repetition of the chorus for the sake of saving room. The lyrics aren't bad, but I feel like the song is trying to say a whole lot of things in one song. Listening to the entire album, I feel like the lyrics for the title track, specifically, is almost trying to summarize the rest of the album. I haven't decided if that is a good or a bad thing, even after several listens. // 6
Overall Impression: There isn't a lot of competition in the realm of southern rock these days you have some bands that have a tinge or dash of southern rock in their sound, but Lynyrd Skynyrd is the biggest southern rock band currently making music and touring. I don't regret buying their album, but several tracks are pushing the boundaries of being country which I can't enjoy so much on a playlist though I still find myself listening to the guitar work. I think for me, a better investment would probably have been seeing the band live that is where they have always shined. Also, they would only be picking from their best songs when making their set lists. As far as my favorite and least favorite songs, I will start with my least favorite which is completely dictated by the lyrics musically they are all interesting "Last Of A Dyin' Breed", "Homegrown" and "Honey Hole". I enjoyed "Good Teacher" and "Life's Twisted" more than the other tracks on the album. I love the guitar work, and several specific lyrics I thought were genius. There is, however, a lot of lyrics that I just don't enjoy and I feel like it actually hurts the song. It isn't a bad album, but I would be interested to see which songs from their new album survives the set lists of their shows. // 7
- Brandon East (c) 2012