Review Summary: Southern Lords
Perhaps the best-know record to come out of the southeast in the early 70s, Skynyrd’s debut still claims an important stitch in the fiber of US rock ‘n roll history. Drafted in the humid, gator-polluted town of Green Cove Springs FL during the late 60s & early 70s in a series of exhaustive rehearsals and named for a disapproving high school Phys Ed instructor, “Pronounced…” is an exquisitely crafted blend of intimate blues, rousing countrified boogie, and rock n’ roll bombast.
It may crowd 7 southern boys into the cover shot, but most of these songs were assembled by the combination of singer Ronnie Van Zant’s verse and the clucking chords of 3 guitarists (Rossington, Collins and King). Despite the considerable musical tutelage of the Skynyrd’s roster, the presence of Van Zant (an old-soul vagabond cut from the same cloth as Phil Lynott and Bon Scott) was really the secret sauce that gave them such a distinctive sound. The album glows spectacular instrumental performances, but the songcraft makes it seem less jam-oriented than the debut of southern rock predecessors the Allman Bros.
There’s an unadorned directness to Van Zant’s lyrics, a sort of resounding blue collar nobility borne of hard work and hard luck. The restless, nomadic desire to remain independent and untethered and the subsequent pervading loneliness provides thematic backbone for cuts like “Tuesday’s Gone”, “Simple Man”, “I Ain’t the One”, and of course “Free Bird”, the most requested live rock song in US history? The swashbuckling barroom tale “Gimme Three Steps” offers a rare combination of hard rock swagger and humorous self-depreciation, but most of the album resides in shades of melancholy and heartache. Of course, that tinkling piano does a good job of hiding it, a perfect segue that brightens the mood in “Tuesday’s Gone” and several others, the music of gentle afternoon breezes and back-porch barbecues.
By the time the debut was recorded, the band had been playing together in one variation or another for years, and it shows. The floating harmonics of “Things Goin’ on”, the bottleneck slide and chicken-picked segments of “Mississippi Kid”, and the well-known cascading triplets in the furious “Free Bird” solo are but a few hotspots found on the record. Perhaps the album’s most profound moment is included as a bonus track (originally the B-side to the “Gimme Three Steps” single), the demo recording of “Mr. Banker”, a modest 12-bar piece that finds Van Zant pleading and wailing over a dramatic bottleneck solo from Ed King, capturing as earnest a display of deep, tragic blues as you’re likely to hear in any rock song.
It’s an album so stacked with quality songs; it feels like a greatest hits record. But this was just the beginning for a band that would reach legendary status in short order.