Under the Influence:
A Jam Band Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2004, Volume 11, #11
Written by John Metzger
With the recent resurgence of Southern rock heralded largely by the grassroots success of Drive-By Truckers, now is as appropriate a time as any in recent history for a reflection upon the often scoffed at, but no less potent, music of Lynyrd Skynyrd. That it comes at the hands of the jam band scene isnít as strange a notion as it might at first appear, especially after one examines the line-up of artists paying their respects on Under the Influence: A Jam Band Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd. For the most part, the groups participating in the project ó which include Big Head Todd and the Monsters and a pairing of John Hiatt and moe. ó owe more to classic rock than to the mindless, Phish-lite noodling of todayís so-called improvisational outfits, and through the application of their comprehensive knowledge and experience, the ensembles mostly keep the set from turning into a tiresome wank-fest.
Indeed, in squeezing 11 songs into a mere 55 minutes, Under the Influence: A Jam Band Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd offers a rather concise glimpse at the Southern rock legendís catalog. Still, the surprises are few and the compilationís triumphs and failures come almost precisely where they could have been expected. For example, Les Claypoolís spastic, elastic, funk-fueled rendition of Call Me the Breeze and Particleís overblown, synth-heavy instrumental spin on Workiní for MCA do little to illuminate or enhance the original songs, and while these re-imaginations are undoubtedly unique, they also are considerably lacking in soul. Faring better are the North Mississippi Allstarsí spiraling, guitar-driven chug through Whiskey Rock-a-Roller and the Drive-By Truckersí alt-country-infused variation on Every Motherís Son, though neither of the new versions is exactly transcendent.
The absolute highlights, then, occur on the trilogy of tracks performed by Blues Traveler, Govít Mule, and Yonder Mountain String Band. Arguably, Blues Traveler had the most difficult task of trying to find a fresh perspective for Freebird, and much like it did in tackling Imagine for the John Lennon ode Working Class Hero, the veteran ensemble made the most of its opportunity. By speeding up the tempo and lacing Freebirdís familiar groove with a funky lilt, it liberated the song from the hokey, bar-band hell in which it too often has dwelled. On Simple Man, Govít Mule took a more traditionalist approach, but the end result is certainly one of the finest recordings by Warren Haynes since his days with the Allman Brothers Band. His heartfelt vocals and glistening slide guitar riffs cut through the densely humid atmosphere of organ, bass, and drums, adding subtle textures to the power of the original recording. As for Yonder Mountain String Band, its inventive interpretation of Four Walls of Raiford is, perhaps, the most unexpected delight to be found on Under the Influence: A Jam Band Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd, simply because the collective magically transforms the haunting blues tune into a sauntering, gospel-tinged bluegrass ditty.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box