Classic Rock Corner

New Lynyrd Skynyrd: What Have We Been Missing?

Though the plane crash that claimed the lives of singer Ronnie Van Zandt and guitarist Steve Gaines looms horrifically large over the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band's legacy is as much about survival as it is tragedy. More than 35 years since the band was nearly snuffed out for good, their classic '70s material remains as popular and perhaps even more influential than ever.

Strains of the band's pioneering Southern rock sound are evident in both modern rock and modern country, and hits like "Sweet Home Alabama" have become time-tested musical staples on the radio and in bars all over the world. Lynyrd Skynyrd has survived because the fans refuse to let the music die.

While the original band's songs may be etched into the musical consciousness, there's another Lynyrd Skynyrd out there, too. Formed ten years after the plane crash as an explicit tribute to the band that once put Southern rock on the map, today's Skynyrd soldiers on with guitarist Gary Rossington as the sole original member left. Although the fans may be buy tickets to the new group's shows to hear "Free Bird" and the other classics, Lynyrd Skynyrd 2.0 now has a legacy of its own.

Skynyrd is scheduled to play a fundraiser that helps kick off the Republican National Convention this Sunday in Tampa, and this week also saw the release of the post-crash Skynyrd's eighth album, Last of a Dyin' Breed. They've now put out plenty more music than the original group did, which feels strange. Like a lot of Skynyrd fans, I've comfortably skipped everything that came after Ronnie's death. I mean, why bother? The "real" Skynyrd is gone. But after listening to the new record's titular lead single, though, I was struck with the realization that this new stuff might not be half bad.

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"Last of a Dyin' Breed" is a nice piece of slide-guitar boogie that honors the past while reckoning that the present ain't such a bad place to be, either. Sure, Johnny Van Zandt ain't Ronnie, but his sweet and earnest voice undeniably works for this style.

The tune's got no frills and no solos; just honest, workmanlike rock. And hey, "An open highway's all I need" is the kind of Southern rock sentiment that I can get behind with no reservations. I give it a solid B+.

Hearing it, though, I couldn't help but wonder if I've been missing out on more good stuff from Skynyrd over the years. Have I been cheating myself out of some good tunes because they didn't fit the narrative of the band in my head?

I decided to find out. Thanks to the power of YouTube, it was easy to revisit the songs I've skipped from Skynyrd's second act. Could any of them hold a candle to the original band's output?

"Keeping the Faith"

"Keeping the Faith" is a single from Skynyrd's first post-crash album, Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991. I'll let you guess what year it was released. The highlight of this tune is Billy Powell's rollicking trademark piano licks, which go a long way toward making this sound like the real deal and not some unnecessary tribute act. The song is no classic, but it's unpretentious.

With only a modest guitar solo, this track's got none of the early-'90s excess of Guns N' Roses and other chart-topping hard rockers of the day, so at least the band wasn't trying to be something that they're not. The song's not great and maybe not too promising, either, but at least it's not embarrassing.

Grade: C+

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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith