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 Post subject: 38 Special - 38 Special
PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2010 10:35 am 
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Released 1977 A&M Records
Reissue 2003 Lemon Recordings

Personnel:
Donnie Van Zant - vocals
Don Barnes - guitars, backing vocals
Jeff Carlisi - guitars, pedal steel, dobro
Steve Brookins - drums, percussion
Jack Grondin - drums
Ken Lyons - bass

Produced by Dan Hartman

Can't remember who it was who suggested we review albums we don't particuarly care for, well here goes. I actually like this band quite a lot, their early 80s releases Special Forces and especially Tour de Force are fantastic albums, with platinum sales to match. 38 Special in the 1980s was a much bigger influence on bands like Bon Jovi than they've ever gotten credit for. But their unique blend of southern rock and AOR was a few years and albums away from this, their debut album. This album is a pretty damn generic southern rock '70s album, call it "Skynyrd-lite" or third rate Marshall Tucker, it's not the worst thing ever recorded, but it's one album that I actually almost understand why it was so hard to track down. How hard? I actually met the band in 1997 when they played in Presque Isle, Maine, and got them to sign my vinyl version, and Don Barnes actually asked me where I found it. Great guys by the way, actually only Barnes and Van Zant are the only members still with the group. Van Zant? Yup, in case you didn't know Donnie is a brother of Johnny and the late Ronnie, both of Lynyrd Skynyrd. In recent years Johnny and Donnie have recorded country albums under the "Van Zant" moniker. But let's not go there LOL.

I'm also missing the band's second album 1978's Special Delivery, which I have a copy of (this one goes for big bucks on ebay, if you do spot it...the original A&M CD issue from probably '87), it seems Lemon (UK reissue label) seems to have reissued only sporadic releases (the back cover lists other reissues from the likes of Dan Reed Network, Michael Monroe, and others) but there's a decent essay on the album and a brief overview of the band's career. Surprisingly accurate notation here, seeing as how Lemon is a division of Cherry Red Recordings (who've reissued long out-of-date music videos from the likes of April Wine and Poison, albeit with several spelling, grammar and title errors.)

1 ) Long Time Gone - Ironically a song which might describe this writer's status on this site (sorry everybody), yet another "missin' my woman on the road" somewhere in the neighborhood of Marshall Tucker's "Heard it in a Love Song" (when I was a kid I always thought that said "purty little love song" but I digress). Yes, if you're only familiar with 38's stuff like "Rockin' into the Night," "Hold on Loosely" and such, you might be surprised just how twangy they used to be. Meh.
2 ) Fly Away - I'll be honest I'm no expert on southern rock, but is it a RULE that all of those bands had to record a "Free Bird" knockoff? Seriously. Boring as hell, and equally as derivative. This album came out in the fateful year of 1977, but I'm not sure if this album came out before or after the Skynyrd tragedy. If it was written after, I'd let it slide.
3 ) Around and Around - A little more upbeat here, this Chuck Berry cover at least breaks a sweat.
4 ) Play a Simple Song - This writer is not, was not, and will never be a country fan. And that's what this is.
5 ) Gypsy Belle - Ok, this is ok, sounds a little bit like later 38 Special album tracks like "Back Door Stranger" or "First Time Around." Here's another wild thing about this album. All the vocals are courtesy of Donnie Van Zant, a decent southern rock singer fair enough. But their radio hits started coming when they realized that guitarist Don Barnes has a fantastic voice. Don sings none of the songs here. Some pretty good guitar interplay by Barnes and Jeff Carlisi.
6 ) Four Wheels - Hmmm...this one almost starts off like Molly Hatchet's "Flirtin' With Disaster," but not as heavy. A road song, this shuffle isn't bad. Again, just nondescript and a little boring. Although it does seem like the album gets better in its second half.
7 ) Tell Everybody - A slower southern boogie here, the modest energy level raised by the previous two songs kind of dies off here.
8 ) Just Hang On - Ok guys, that's what I've been doing for most of this album LOL. Oh man, I realize they've got pretty strong ties to Lynyrd Skynyrd, but after ripping off "Free Bird" with "Fly Away," now they try to rewrite "Tuesday's Gone." No originality here whatsoever. I guess the best thing I could say about both these "retakes" are that neither of them are much longer than 5 minutes. Oh by the way the lyrics also paraphrase "Simple Man" ("if you do this, my son.") It also fades out in similar fashion as Joe Cocker's "A Little Help From My Friends." Can I go now ;-)
9 ) Just Wanna Rock and Roll - Finally, another uptempo number which from its title, at least indicates the band's desire to rock out. Another reason this album sounds kind of weak might be due to its pedestrian production, ironically courtesy of former Edgar Winter Group singer/minor solo star Dan Hartman. But not a bad song. The song speeds up at the end and the guitarists trade off some tasty licks, but as the album draws to a conclusion there isn't a lot here that begs for hitting repeat any time soon.

The great thing about the music scene in the 70s is that record companies did allow groups to develop, and I think most labels understood that most rock bands weren't likely to hit big right away. If this album set the tone for 38 Special's future releases, they would have faded into a footnote in southern rock history. But listen to this next to Wild Eyed Southern Boys and it hardly sounds like the same band!! None of the songs on here would have much longevity in the band's setlists and I could be wrong, but I don't think they ever revisit this stuff either.

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 Post subject: Re: 38 Special - 38 Special
PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2010 2:45 pm 
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They looked like a Southern Rock band , but never sounded like one too me. Their vocals were always good though and I had no idea they have been around since the 70's. :shock:

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 Post subject: Re: 38 Special - 38 Special
PostPosted: Sat May 15, 2010 9:56 pm 
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A great review of a not-so-great album, Tim.

I've got a few .38 Special albums, but not their first two. Glad I never bothered to track them down now... :P

BTW ~ I loved Dan Hartman's hit I Can Dream About You back in the day. Try explaining that to your headbanging buddies back in the 80s... :lol:


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 Post subject: Re: 38 Special - 38 Special
PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2010 12:10 am 
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I've enjoyed my share of .38...only thing I bought was the GH, though. I might have one of their records, though...maybe.

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 Post subject: Re: 38 Special - 38 Special
PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2010 5:29 am 
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Steve, it's funny you should mention that Dan Hartman song...to me, there are a few pop songs that were just so well written that they transcend genre. "I Can Dream About You" is one of them. Did you know that song was written with Hall & Oates in mind? (Another group that does great pop.)

Anyway, glad you enjoyed reading the review.

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 Post subject: Re: 38 Special - 38 Special
PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2010 6:34 am 
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Ok, that was me that suggested reviews about albums that the writer may not necessarily care for. I'd feel bad for suggesting it but it got a pretty darned interesting write-up from you. :mrgreen: Usually I find the earlier albums by bands to be very interesting, especially before they found their sound and were experimenting. Alice Cooper, Scorpions, and Judas Priest come to mind. But in this case, I don't know if I would care for the first 38 Special as I'm not much of a country fan at all. The last Skynard album was leaning a little too much country as far as I'm concerned. Although it still had good song writing.

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