Review Summary: An undisputed hidden gem of 1970s funk-rock.
Dying young is one of the prerogatives of being an artist – or at least it used
to be, back before the arts world was sanitised to within an inch of its life. Back in the heady days of the second half of the twentieth century, the life of a performing artist was almost inevitably tied to all manner of excesses, to the point where it was a truth universally acknowledged that actors and rock stars lived hard and fast, and were probably not long for this world.
Still, while most representatives of this demographic brought their early demise upon themselves, not all of them chose to flirt with disaster. Now and again, a celebrity casualty came down, not to substance abuse or excessive speeding, but simply happenstance, a stroke of misfortune which could not be avoided, prevented or even predicted in any way - and among these, perhaps the most common cause of death was the aircraft accident. In the rock and metal scene alone, plane and helicopter crashes are responsible for their fair share of lives being cut tragically short; most famously, those of Ozzy Osbourne’s guitar wunderkind, Randy Rhoads, and – even more tragically – those of a solid half of worldwide Southern rock superstars Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The date was October 20, 1977, when 26 men and women boarded a chartered plane in Greenville, South Carolina, headed for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on an ill-fated journey which some of them would not survive. A miscalculation by the pilot saw the plane run out of fuel over Amite County, Mississippi, eventually crashing onto a tree near Gillsburg. Six people were killed on impact, including both pilots, the band’s road manager and (more tragically) three of its main members - frontman Ronnie Van Zant and the brother-and-sister duo of backing singer Cassie Gaines and newly appointed guitarist Steve Gaines. All three were under the age of thirty.
Skynyrd’s tragedy sent immediate ripples across the Southern rock scene as a whole. Skynyrd’s latest album, Street Survivors
– graced with an unfortunate fire-themed cover – was pulled off shelves for artwork re-designing, and the band's career was naturally put on immediate hiatus, where it would remain for over a decade, until the surviving members decided to give touring another stab.
The band’s reunion was not, however, the only Skynyrd-related event happening in that year of 1988 – while the band’s reunion took up most of the media and fans’ attention, the group’s label attempted to capitalise on the momentous occasion by quietly pulling a fully-fledged, previously-shelved record out of their vault and releasing it to what they knew would be an eager and receptive audience.
That album was One In The Sun
, a set of nine songs recorded all the way back in 1975 by a little-known working bar band called Crawdad, which MCA decided to rebrand and publicised as a solo effort by that band’s singer and guitarist, an easy-going twenty-something sometimes known as Crawdaddy - real name Steve Gaines.
As crass and opportunistic as this move may have seemed, however (both at the time and in the four decades since) it did end up adding value, not only for Skynyrd fans, but Southern rock fans as a whole; Crawdad’s material may not have set the industry on fire, even back in 1975, but it is certainly solid enough to warrant its five minutes in, well, the sun.
Skynyrd enthusiasts going into this album should, however, be forewarned – Crawdad’s style does not quite
follow the template set by Southern rock’s most illustrious alumni; while the Van Zandts took their cues from blues, roots rock and Americana, Gaines and company source their influences from the other side of the spectrum. From the moment Give It Before You Get It
first starts up, it becomes apparent that the overall sound on this record is much closer to funk and soul than to anything Skynyrd might have been spinning at the time – an impression which is only cemented when the very next two tracks are covers of, respectively, a Curtis Mayfield song popularised by The Impressions (It’s Alright
) and a traditional ballad popularised by Taj Mahal (Blackjack Davey
.) The former, in particular, sees Gaines unleash his inner pastor to produce a vocal performance which is either a tribute to black music of the time period, or borderline cultural appropriation, depending on the viewpoint.
The black music influence is by no means restricted to that one track, either. The title track and Take My Time
are close enough to something Otis Redding might have recorded as to fall under the category of ‘blue-eyed soul’, and assorted other numbers throughout these thirty-four and a half minutes drink copiously from the funk-rock well (the aforementioned Give It To Get It
and the peppy Nothing’s New[/i] chief among them.)
Elsewhere, the group do tread the tried-and-true boogie rock path cleared by the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival (On The Road
), but these moments are sporadic enough to be almost negligible – and, to be fair, the album is all the better off for it. The more Southern-flavored tracks are among the few unmemorable moments on this album, with the aforementioned On The Road
(penned and sung by Gaines’ guitar sidekick John Moss) being the most forgettable of the nine cuts on the record. In fact, Moss appears to have something of an anti-Midas touch, as his only other contribution to the album (Talkin’ About Love
, which he co-authors with Gaines) is also a slightly throwaway, if perfectly pleasant, track. Along with somewhat self-indulgent closer Summertime’s Here
(essentially an over-extended funk-rock jam session, with minimal and almost negligible lyricism) these songs cause a slight dip in overall quality for the record – though at no point does the songwriting standard fall anywhere below a good to very good standard.
Fortunately, the highlights more than make up for any shortcomings the album as a whole might have had. It’s Alright
and One In The Sun
(later repurposed by Lynyrd Skynyrd) are, in a word, fantastic – the first a cheerful celebration of life and love straight out of a Baptist church, the second a mournful, soulful lamentation punctuated by wailing blues guitar licks. Together, they also serve as the perfect encapsulation of Gaines’ personality – a young man who is sometimes downhearted and angry at his lot in life, but who refuses to let it get him down, choosing instead to celebrate life at every possible turn. This, in fact, is a pervading theme throughout the album, with more plaintive cuts like the title track or Nothing’s New
(the peppiest down-and-out song this side of the Ramones) being offset by drink-and-be-merry counterparts like It’s Alright, Summertime’s Here
and Take My Time[/i] - a smooth, laid-back lyric about enjoying the quiet moments in life, set against lounge instrumentation, which creates a mood akin to sitting on a back porch, glass of wine in hand, watching the Summer sun go down…
The slice-of-life nature of Gaines’ (and Moss’s) lyrics, however, also ends up having a somewhat eerie effect in hindsight. Listening to the Crawdad frontman sing lines like ’tomorrow’s outta sight’
, knowing what would transpire a mere two years later, does send a chill down the listener’s spine. Still, this feeling is quickly dispelled by the upbeat tone of the compositions, and by the time the closer rolls around, one is once again predisposed to grant Gaines’ request to ’get daaaaaan-ciiiiin’’
. When this short but incredibly satisfying listening experience comes to an end a few seconds later, one is almost ready to forgive MCA for making the conscious choice to rummage around in their studio drawers and make a fast buck off of a tragic death, as even a cursory playthrough of these songs makes it abundantly clear that they deserved a better fate than to linger on a shelf for the rest of time. In fact, the decision to shelve this album in the first place is nothing short of baffling; One In The Sun
is an undisputed hidden gem of 1970s funk-rock, which would most likely have done well at the time of recording. As the saying goes, however, it is better late than never – and that is definitely true in this case.
One In The Sun