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Flirtin’ With Disaster

By John Brodeur

Various Artists

A all-star Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd (Deadline)

It’s not like there were high ex pectations going into this one. A legitimately bad-ass band in their pre-plane-crash heyday, Skynyrd spawned a million terrible bar bands; in recent years, with a lesser Van Zandt at the helm, they themselves have become a terrible bar band. So there’s that.

And here’s this: 13 legitimately bad-ass Skynyrd tunes, painstakingly re-created by their Southern-rock peers and a handful of curveballs from the hair-metal era (when’s the last time you heard the name Dangerous Toys?). And talk about getting off on the wrong foot: The disc lumbers out of the gate with a nearly 11-minute “Free Bird,” rendered serviceably enough, I guess, by Molly Hatchet, but with vocals by Charlie Daniels that could strip the paint off a Dodge Charger. (That’s meant in a bad way.) The Outlaws, or whoever’s calling themselves the Outlaws these days, follow with a stiff “Sweet Home Alabama” that shows just how poorly both the song and the act have aged.

You’d think original Skynyrd members Artimus Pyle and Ed King would bring something more to offer on their “Double Trouble” than just the band’s original backup singers, but no. There’s a hint of a spark (heh) in Great White’s “Saturday Night Special,” but that’s quickly extinguished by Canned Heat’s just-plain-awful “That Smell.” Can’t you smell that smell? It’s the smell of a band who should have quit decades ago.

It doesn’t get better, although Pat Travers at least attempts to bring some life to “Gimme Back My Bullets.” But two things—well, three, counting the “one original member performing as his old band” thing, which always stinks—sink just about every track here: Half of the bands insist on re-creating every last note of the original recordings, which renders the songs lifeless and difficult; and the recording quality throughout most of the disc is of the straight-into-the-board variety, which makes it about as exciting sonically as elevator music. File this under Avoid at All Costs.

Doug Sahm & Band

Doug Sahm & Band (Collector’s Choice)

The Sir Douglas Band

Texas Tornado (Collector’s Choice)

These two Doug Sahm albums originally were released in 1973. Jerry Wexler and Atlantic Records trumpeted their new signing, creating a sizable buzz around the first album. This didn’t translate into significant sales, and the second one appeared (with a unique moniker that overtly referenced his original quintet) six months later. Expectations for marketplace activity being what they are, Atlantic became yet another label Sahm was on and off. (In fact, his four decades of recordings are scattered across so many companies, there’s yet to be a full-career overview set.)

Happily, these albums now exist on their own, not tied to what came before or after them. Three years ago this pair appeared as a limited-edition set from Rhino Handmade titled The Genuine Texas Groover. Where that release added alternates and outtakes, these are straight reissues. It’s actually nice to hear them exactly as they were conceived and completed at the time.

Doug Sahm & Band has the more consistent overall feel of the two. Even with an array of big-name guests (Bob Dylan, Dr. John, David Bromberg) coming and going, there’s an inviting sense of camaraderie throughout. Twin fiddle here, horns there, it’s held together by Sahm’s penchant for nearly every style of music that wafted across the airwaves of Texas while he was growing up. The exuberantly rendered harmony vocals on “It’s Gonna Be Easy” feel like the heart of the proceedings, as formidable players and singers let it roll out, like it’s as easy as laying in a hammock under a shade tree. But there they were, in a recording studio in New York City. Artists and pros can sound at home wherever they may be.

Texas Tornado was built upon tracks left over from the previous album, and new songs recorded with different players in San Francisco. While that has been a recipe for truckloads of half-baked cakes from a wide range of acts, that’s not the case here. Leaning more toward horn-driven blues and jazz, the album is a showcase for Sahm’s writing, with him penning eight of the 11 tunes (he’d only had two on the other). Add in Tex-Mex, country, rock, and more. Doug Sahm tied it all together: The guy just loved music.

—David Greenberger

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