Reviews

A Look Back at the Only Lynyrd Skynyrd That Matters

A sometimes eerie and often revealing examination of Lynyrd Skynyrd's initial run and the unfortunate events that sealed the band's place in history forever.


Lynyrd Skynyrd

Gone With the Wind: The Remarkable Rise and Tragic Fall of Lynyrd Skynyrd

Label: Sexy Intellectual
US Release Date: 2015-10-16
UK Release Date: 2015-09-25
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Given the ubiquity of its better-known tunes on classic rock radio and the way it’s become a cliché to shout out for that big churn and burn ballad (the one about Duane Allman with “bird” in the title) you could forget that Lynyrd Skynyrd was once one of the mightiest acts on the globe. None other than Robert Christgau, the dean of American rock critics, sings the praises of the mighty Skyn in this new examination of that ill-fated band. And he’s right.

Naturally, it didn’t start that way. There were those clumsy stabs at rock ‘n’ roll in high school that featured the man everyone can agree was a star from the start, Ronnie Van Zant, and trail of record company rejection notices that could have paved several major interstates throughout the South. After some mixing and matching with lineups and militaristic rehearsals at a shack called Hell House the group joined up with Southern Rock mogul Phil Walden’s brother Alan Walden and played just about every rat hole it could find.

As late as 1972 when the band had trekked to Muscle Shoals to record songs that would eventually give rise to a record deal, the skeptics were louder than the supporters. Some grumbled that the Skyn sounded too much like the Allmans (not much), that you couldn’t sell a Southern band outside the South (Tom Petty seemed to know this and took his band Mudcrutch to California), and all that other stuff. Examining this DVD and going back to listen to the recordings from the era (there’s not much that hasn’t been unearthed) it’s evident that the songs are there.

“Down South Jukin’” is as fun today as it must have been to hear in the clubs back in the early times; “Simple Man” is as much a classic in its early iterations as it would become upon its billionth broadcast on FM radio. But there were problems with those early sessions, one being that the group didn’t have a proper producer. One thing leads to another and you can cue the stage direction: Enter Al Kooper.

Under his direction and with the addition of former Strawberry Alarm Clock guitarist Ed King on bass and, shortly thereafter, guitar, the Skynyrd sound was solidified. Enter 1973’s pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd and a barrage of first rate material, including “Tuesday’s Gone”, “Gimme Three Steps” (one of Van Zant’s greatest moments as a lyricist and vocalist), “Free Bird” and the definitive version of “Simple Man”. As legend has it the band had success with that album (it eventually went gold) and the follow-up Second Helping, which featured more contributions from Ed King in the writing department, including “Sweet Home Alabama” and “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”.

The muse was off the rose by the time that the group ended its road trip in time to prepare for Nuthin’ Fancy, an album written mostly in the studio and featuring Kooper at the boards for the third and final time. He, King, and others interviewed for this documentary are of the opinion that despite the commercial success of the record the band was worn down, tired and in desperate need of some time off. They’d already lost drummer Bob Burns, who’d suffered an horrific meltdown out on the road and was quickly replaced by the criminally under-rated Artimus Pyle, whose style would eventually propel the band to greater heights in the live setting and during its final moments in the studio.

Burns and Pyle both appear here and their recollections of the events of the era lead the viewer to the same conclusion: Skynyrd was being overworked and over served, and the moral and spiritual bankruptcy that had visited the band by this point was in danger of edging its way into the creative realm. Case in point: 1976’s middling Gimme Back My Bullets, the title alone perhaps a desperate plea for something/someone to bring back the old days. It was too late for that, of course, drugs had infested every corner of the camp and King, one of the group’s strongest writers, was gone.

Still, the band found time to record and release a jaw-dropping live album in 1976, One More From the Road, which is without a doubt one of the greatest live albums in rock history and not given its proper due in this documentary. It’s where you can really hear the way that the band sounded when it was in its element and how delicate the interplay between the members was and, of course, how much a powerhouse Pyle was behind the kit.

Even without hearing that album you can get an idea of how good the band was during that era thanks to old live footage (much of it coming from Europe). Watching that footage and some of the later images as well is, in a word, spooky. Spooky not just because of what fate held for the mid 1970s version of the band but spooky because it’s hard to imagine that a band that was that talented would suffer so greatly for its success. (The Skynyrd death toll, even after the 1977 plane crash, is remarkably high.)

Spookier still when you consider that there was some effort made to bring the band around. A decade on the band might have been taken under the wing of a well-intentioned management team, told to get some rest, go to rehab and get back out there and make more money than ever. The group would have reunited with Kooper and King and ridden a string of hits penned with outside riders into MTV glory.

Evidence of mending ways were evident on 1977’s Street Survivors. Guitarist Steve Gaines came into the picture and offered a boost to the writing department and helped reinvigorate Van Zant’s musings on the cautionary (and perhaps prescient) “That Smell” and contributed one of the band’s most natural sounding numbers “I Know A Little” and an under-heard track “Ain’t No Good Life”. This was finally the record that the band should have made some years earlier and the one that would redeem it in the eyes of the record-buying public.

Except that wasn’t to be. The plane crash that took the lives of Van Zant, Gaines, his sister, Cassie, the pilots, and Skynyrd crew members. Pyle’s recollection here is moving but also spooky as he seems to relive the event and is all too aware of what came in the years afterward.

Remaining members formed Rossington Collins Band and released three modestly successful albums in the following years but the band and the music really died that in October 1977 when the band’s plane went down. Today, many of the former members appear to be at odds with each other over the group’s legacy and its future, making an official history from the group seem impossible. Any attempt to chronicle the story will have to come from outside and from documents like this one.

This will most likely be the only documentary of its kind on the band as the current version of Skynyrd, everyone seems to agree, plays music that is largely absent of spirit and lacks the integrity heard on those first great studio albums. This is the best story of the original Skynyrd as we’re likely to get and probably the only one that matters.

Extras here include extended interviews, but the nearly three-hour running time, archival footage in the film and the recollections from those who were there are more than enough.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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