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Lynyrd Skynyrd: God & Guns

Legendary Southern Rock act Lynyrd Skynyrd are back with their first album of new material since 2003's Vicious Cycle, the enjoyable and song-fiendly God & Guns. While Gary Rossington is now the only original member of the band (technically though, guitarist Rickey Medlocke did play drums in one of the earliest incarnations of the band before leaving to form Blackfoot) after the recent death of keyboard player Billy Powell, they continue to soldier on and keep the spirit of the South alive and well. In addition to the death of Powell, longtime bass player Ean Evans also passed on prior to this album getting released, so the long list of deceased musicians from the Skynyrd camp keeps getting longer and longer. The line-up for God & Guns is: Gary Rossington - guitar, Johnny Van Zant - lead vocals, Rickey Medlocke - guitar, vocals, Sparky Matejka - guitar, Michael Cartellone - drums, Billy Powell- keyboards, Ean Evans - Bass, with backing vocals from The Honkettes, Dale Kranz Rossington and Carol Chase, but the band have since filled the bass and keyboard slots after the losses of Evans and Powell.

After the first spin through God & Guns, it's pretty evident that this is more of a 'song' based album from Skynyrd, as if their recent signing to Roadrunner Records has pushed the band to try some new things and reach a wider audience. While there's still some raunchy hard Southern tinged rockers, such as the killer opener "Still Unbroken" (with its slide guitar, dueling licks, and heavy riffs), the wild "Skynyrd Nation" (complete with vocal trades from Johnny and Rickey and some nasty guitar playing), and the beefy "Little Thing Called You", there's more than a healthy portion of catchy, melodic country/pop flavored numbers like "Simple Life", "Southern Ways", and "Unwrite That Song", all of which could easily become hit singles given the right push. And even though the band's constant reminder that they are in fact 'Americans' and pushing 'American values and American history', as heard almost ad nauseum on the cliche ridden but ultimately enjoyable "That Ain't My America", the lyrics are so good natured that you quickly forgive the band for being the proudly unabashed Americans they are . It's a nice break from that on the beer/whiskey soaked swamp rocker "Floyd", where Van Zandt gets down and dirty on what is almost his variation on "16 Tons", and producer Bob Marlette really shows how he can make this band polished and slick on the .38 Special-ish "Comin' Back For More", which for some might not be a good thing, but it's a fun song. The title track is a hell of a piece, kicking off with plenty of acoustic guitars, mandolin, slide and pedal steel, like a mix of Southern Rock and bluegrass, before the crushing, heavy rock riffs come into play, turning this one into a real powerhouse of a song that should go over well in a live setting. With some blistering guitar lines from Medlocke, Matejka, and Rossington's slide, this one's a guitar feast.

Which brings me to a few negatives about God & Guns. There seems to be missing some 'guitar power' on some of these pieces, as if the band decided to tone down solos and heavy riffs on a handful of the tunes so the vocal melodies could take center stage. This is pretty evident on "Storm", a song that is more reliant on Van Zandt's soaring vocals and the backing work of the Honkettes than anything else, and almost screams for a crazy little solo from one of the guitar players. Thankfully on the country piece "Gifted Hands" there's a roaring lead towards the end of the song, which is otherwise filled with acoustic guitar, strings, and passionate vocals. Also, the piano work of Billy Powell is almost non-existent throughout the album. I'm not quite sure how much of God & Guns was completed before he passed away, but other than some organ in spots, you really don't hear the late, great Powell here, which is a shame as he was always such a big part of their sound.

If you pick up the deluxe 2CD set, you get 3 additional new tracks, the edgy rocker "Bang Bang", ,the rootsy anthem "Raining In My Heartland", and the 70's throwback "Hobo Kinda Man", a tune that fans of the bands earlier material will certainly love. Also included are a few live tracks, red hot versions of "Red, White, and Blue", "Call Me the Breeze", and "Sweet Home Alabama".

Though the band uses some outside help with the songwriting here from folks such as John 5, producer Marlette, Brad & Brett Warren, and others, Van Zandt, Rossington, and Medlocke take up the bulk of the writing. Johnny is in fine form througout vocally-in fact, this is the best he has sounded in years. Perhaps it's the inclusion of more country flavored tunes, but he really is on the top of his game on God & Guns. In the end, this is just a solid Southern Rock album with a touch of pop & country. Though they may be down to their last original member, Lynyrd Skynrd have come up with a highly listenable album that is sure to find an audience of new listeners beyond those that just want to hear "Freebird" for the millionth time.

Track Listing
Disc: 1
1. Still unbroken
2. Simple Life
3. Little Thing Called You
4. Southern Ways
5. Skynyrd Nation
6. Unwrite That Song
7. Floyd
8. That Ain't My America
9. Comin' Back For More
10. God & Guns
11. Storm
12. Gifted Hands
Disc: 2
1. Bang Bang
2. Raining In My Heartland
3. Hobo Kinda Man
4. Red White and Blue (Live)
5. Call Me The Breeze (Live)
6. Sweet Home Alabama (Live)

Added: October 10th 2009
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 3105
Language: english

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Lynyrd Skynyrd: God & Guns
Posted by Scott Ward, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-10-10 01:19:59
My Score:

The title of the album is taken from a speech that Barackk Obama gave while in San Francisco. In the speech he chided small town America for clinging to their "Guns and Religion". While Obama thinks that this is a problem, I am glad that there is someone like Skynyrd to stand up and say "Hey, wait a second!" Sometimes we need a slap in the face to remember what is important and these southern boys have gladly planted one right across the kisser as a wake up call.

Opening up the album with the first single released from the disc, "Still Unbroken", it is a tribute to themselves. No other band that I can think of has gone through the tragedy they have and still championed on. This major slice of southern rock, with all the anthem like appeal that older Skynyrd fans will gobble up, is a powerhouse beginning where you get a sense that the band is here to deliver a message. Endurance and perseverance are part of what is called the American spirit and that is what this album is a celebration of and a warning about what is slowly slipping away.

Nostalgic and clichéd to the max, with the Skynyrd brand of patriotism, morals and southern life, this is an album that should just be enjoyed for what it is, a great bit of southern rock and roll which emphasizes traditional values and a way of life that was a foundation upon which this country was founded. Songs like "Southern Ways" ( a song that sounds like a slowed down version of "Sweet Home Alabama"), "Simple Life" "This Ain't My America" and "Raining In My Heartland" all expound upon the these ideals. These songs have a little more of a storytelling aspect than you are use to from Skynyrd but these are all gems in a more mature manner from the band. You get a feeling that they are trying to pass on the wisdom that only comes from experience and this is the most profound way to do it.

The band also pays tribute to two of their own who are no longer with us. The tug at your heartstrings ballad "Gifted Hands" is Skynyrd saying goodbye to their longtime keyboardist Billy Powell and they also pay their last respects to bassist Ean Evans with a good dose of old school Skynyrd rock called "Storm". They have had more than their share of dealing with the loss of loved ones and they know that each one who is gone was and still is a part of the Skynyrd family. Both played on Gods & Guns and helped to make this album the great slice of rock and roll that it is.

The band also enlisted the help of some modern day rockers to help with this album. Rob Zombie adds his backing vocals to the swamp rock classic "Floyd" and his guitarist John 5 also added his own touch to the disc. Make no bones about it though, this is pure Lynyrd Skynyrd from start to finish. It is the album to pull out while you are sitting in the back yard watching life goes by with your favorite beverage. It is Americana through and through. The American dream seems to be slipping away but not on Skynyrds watch! Do yourself a favor… get this album, sit down with the whole family and listen to it. Look around and tell me that you don't yearn for the way of life that the band is emphasizing. If the answer is no, then maybe Skynyrd is even a more right than I thought!

The special edition of this disc comes with a few additional songs that are well worth the purchase. The rocker "Bang Bang", the aforementioned "Raining In My Heartland" and the pure southern swamp rocker "Hobo Kinda Man". There are also three Skynyrd classics done live, "Red, White & Blue", "Call Me The Breeze" and "Sweet Home Alabama". If you can find it, get this one for sure!

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