Whither Southern Rock?

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South by Southwest's daily music-news aggregator The Daily Chord stumbled across an interesting item today on former Houstonian Bill Bentley's new Sonic Boomers blog. Longtime music writer Geoffrey Himes, who penned the Born in the USA entry in the 33 1/3 album-guide series, writes a lengthy essay about Southern Rock, basically a platform for him to tell us all how much he loves Drive-By Truckers. Hear hear... and don't forget, the Alabama boys (and girl) will be at Meridian September 24.

"Gregg Allman once told me that he hated the term Southern rock," Himes says. "Rock and roll, he pointed out, was created in the South, so all rock is Southern. To call something Southern rock, he argued, was redundant: 'It's like saying, 'Rock rock.'"

Say "Southern Rock" these days and of course people will immediately think of Lynyrd Skynyrd; some joker will no doubt yell "Freebird!" if given half a chance. Himes spends a good deal of his lengthy essay discussing the recent "Deluxe Edition" of Lynyrd Skynyrd's 1977 album Street Survivors - Ronnie Van Zandt's final album before the fateful plane crash outside Baton Rouge and not just one of the best Southern Rock albums of all time, but one of the best albums of the '70s, period.

More to the point, Himes argues, is that Southern Rock has been undergoing a decade-long renaissance since the Truckers' 2001 double-LP Southern Rock Opera, which, very postmodern-like, is a Southern Rock album that examines what it means to play in a Southern Rock band.

"Once again Southern bands are using loud guitars and drums, blue-collar attitude, freewheeling solos and obvious roots in blues and country to explore what it means to live in the Old Confederacy," Himes writes.

He helpfully offers his opinion of what a decent Southern Rock library should look like, and besides the obligatory Skynyrd and Allman Brothers LPs - which no self-respecting rock library should be without - it's all from this decade: All the Truckers' albums from Rock Opera through this year's Brighter than Creation's Dark; Bettye LaVette's Child of the Seventies and Scene of the Crime (recorded with DBT as her backing band); former Trucker Jason Isbell's Sirens of the Ditch; and North Mississippi All-Stars' Shake Hands with Shorty and this year's Hernando.

I'd add ZZ Top's Tres Hombres to that list. And personally, I never thought Skynyrd kinfolk and "Wild Eyed Southern Boys" .38 Special got enough credit. - Chris Gray

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