LYNYRD SKYNYRD Second Helping (MCA)
Perhaps a surprising candidate for reissue as part of Universal’s Back To Black series given that it’s not the album with “Free Bird” on it, “Second Helping” does however open with the Neil Young-baiting “Sweet Home Alabama”. The band have attempted to cool the controversy engendered by that song in subsequent interviews, citing, for example, that the muted boos following the line “In Birmingham they love the governor” as an expression of their lack of support for segregationist George Wallace. Al Kooper’s mewling Neil Young impersonation is pretty amusing through.
“I Need You” dispenses some swampy, Allmans-worthy blues, and “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” smuggles in some surprising wit beneath its blazing horns. The anti-corporate “Workin’ For MCA” is almost punk in its vitriolic denouncement of The Man, but “The Ballad Of Curtis Loew”’s examination of the rural blues economy isn’t quite as progressive: we learn that, despite the eponymous Loew being “the finest picker to ever play the blues…on the day he lost his life that’s all he had to lose”. Perhaps the song’s narrator, a young boy at the time of the events described, is complicit in the demise of this “black man with white curly hair”, given that it’s the profits from his soda bottle-collecting enterprise that partly finance Loew’s alcohol intake. The cautionary anti-drugs tale “The Needle And The Spoon” is one of the album’s better moments, despite the heavy metal guitar squeals snapping at its periphery, but Skynyrd’s cover of J J Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze” can’t help but feel like 40 miles of bad road after prolonged exposure to Spiritualized’s sliding, gliding version.
“Second Helping”’s subject matter and presentation can’t really help but sound a bit clichéd and hackneyed nowadays, but that isn’t to deny its defining position in the Southern Rock canon or the influence it must’ve wielded on release 35 years ago. As is becoming depressingly predictable, though, this is another desperately uninspiring Back To Black pressing, bundled with a rather better sounding download. Nuthin’ fancy, indeed.
LYNYRD SKYNYRD Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd (Music On Vinyl)
Making The Allman Brothers Band sound like slavish purists, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 debut bristles with unexpected touches that perhaps betray the handiwork of producer Al Kooper. There are the backwards cymbals on “I Ain’t The One”, for example, the pistol sound effects closing “Mississippi Kid”, and even that most anti-roots rock of instruments the Mellotron on “Free Bird”. What are they, some kinda good old boy’s Moody Blues?
“Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd” ladles out a particularly thick, distinctive broth for a first album, the band arriving fully formed here, playing with the utmost, driving conviction. At times overpoweringly so, such as the eight over-egged minutes of “Tuesday’s Gone”, which, drowning in syrupy keyboard shadings, has me wondering what, say, Little Feat might’ve made from the same ingredients. (Something shorter, I’ll wager.) Counterbalancing this, though, is the acoustic strum ‘n’ thump of “Mississippi Kid”, the album at its most stripped back. Towering over anything else on this, and perhaps every other, Skynyrd record, of course, is the ageless “Free Bird”. Too often reduced to a hipster heckle, it fully deserves its pre-eminent place in the classic rock pantheon alongside other epic theatrical performances such as “Stairway”, “Bo Rhap”, “Jungleland” and “Bat Out Of Hell”. Its impact at the time of release, tucked away on the end of this unknown band’s first record, must have been phenomenal.
Without an original to compare, Music On Vinyl’s reissue is more solidly acceptable than exceptional, but it’s more palatable than the grainy “Second Helping” put out by Universal in 2008 as part of their generally lamentable Back To Black series. It sounds and looks alright, whilst being nothing that yer genuine audiophile reissue company couldn’t better in their sleep, whatever the cover sticker might claim. Nevertheless, finally being able to buy a factory fresh pressing of an album I’ve been hunting for years makes up for a lot.