Blast From The Past: 38 Special

There are at least two great things about this album…

I’ve always been skeptical about second generation version of rock bands, although I do like powerpop, and with few exceptions the entire movement has eaten its own tail for forty plus years. But crawling from the (literal) ashes of Lynyrd Skynyrd is another story altogether – even for original survivors of that band.

So initially I looked at 38 Special like I look at light beer – technically in the same ballpark but little substance and no staying power. But I was wrong about the latter, and even I must admit that they did have a way with a lighthearted hook on occasion. And yeah, there are a couple/three/four songs that bring a smile to my face today, even though I’ve never been a big fan.

When I saw the disc in the rack this morning, I thought I remembered writing it up, and sure enough…eleven years ago, I did.

Short of Steppenwolf’s anthem, what better opening line could you have for Biker Week in South Dakota than “Cruisin’ down the motorway…”? Live from the Buffalo Chip Fairgrounds it’s “Rockin’ Into The Night,” and that’s just what these classic rock radio survivors did in front of a huge throng of worshippers. Always more commercially viable than their predecessors Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special had quite a run of hits; you might be surprised when you realize just how many. And before you cock an eyebrow at the mention of their name, give this disc a spin. Many of their contemporaries have fizzled out and lost it big time; these guys sound fresh. Well, apart from the cheesy synthesizer. Too “Kansas,” man…

Don Barnes and Donnie VanZant sound exactly the same as they did the first time around, which is to say strong lead vocals and able-bodied harmony. Guitarist Danny Chauncey adds some ripping lead guitar to several tracks, as they roll through the classic catalogue along with a few newer numbers. And only the close-minded among us toss that “yee-hah rock” bandana on their work. “Hold On Loosely,” “Back Where You Belong” and especially “Caught Up In You” are pure pop songs rolled in southern-fried bread crumbs.

Sure, there ‘s a touching tribute to Ronnie VanZant (“Rebel To Rebel“) that ends with a little “Free Bird” riff, and yes, Donnie pays props by tossing in a whistle in place of a vocal growl (a Ronnie trademark), and the crowd eats it up. And frankly, when a band paves the career road for you and featured your late brother, it would be hedonistic not to tip the hat to the icon.

And to prove that all the chips weren’t cashed in fifteen years ago, a new studio track (“Just One Girl“) is tacked on at the end. The song has a nice low-key push and gets its bounce from some great organ playing. But if an album full of hits and a catchy new tune isn’t enough for you, there is that biker chick on the cover…

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