Wednesday, 10 February 2016

"Second Helping" by LYNYRD SKYNYRD (2009 Audio Fidelity 24KT Gold Audiophile HDCD - Kevin Gray Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Dig You Georgia Peaches..."

Containing the epoch-making 9-minute "Freebird" - it's hardly surprising that Lynyrd Skynyrd's 1973 debut album "Pronounced..." usually gets all the plaudits when it comes to appraising their Seventies catalogue. But for me their next platter "Second Helping" has always been their Southern Rock masterpiece and a far better album overall. If anything the years have been more than kind to those 'Sounds Of The South' - up to a point where the album's legend continues to grow and regularly gets rediscovered as people dig out Classic 1970s Rock albums. I bought "Second Helping" in 1974 along with Joe Walsh's "So What" and Todd Rundgren's "Utopia" and all have been firmly wedged in my soft machine ever since.

There are three versions of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Second Helping" on CD of note – one cheap and the other two pricey (but worth it).

The star in a reasonably priced car is the American 'Expanded' CD Remaster on MCA Records B001171902 (Barcode 602517805125) issued in November 1997 (sells for as little as four quid at times - us the Barcode to get that issue). It was remastered by DOUG SCHWARTZ from the original two-track master tapes, features a nicely featured 16-page booklet and three bonus tracks worth having (53:55 minutes). I own this version and the Remaster is ballsy if not a little overly loud. The three bonus cuts however are a real treat for Skynyrd fans – "Don't Ask Me No Questions (Single Version)", "Was I Right Or Wrong (Sounds Of The South Demo)" (5:33 minutes) and "Take Your Time (Sounds Of The South Demo)" (7:29 minutes). The last two are barroom boogie outtakes and feature some tremendous slide and piano bolstered up here with fabulous audio ("...take my time and love 'em slow...") Ronnie assures the ladies. "Take Your Time" was also a non-album B-side in the USA to the 45 of "Don't Ask Me No Questions".

There's a 2014 Hybrid SACD reissue by the American company Analogue Productions on CAPP 413 SA (Barcode 753088041365) remastered by a Sound Engineer of real repute - KEVIN GRAY (see Joe Walsh's "The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get" and Randy Newman's "12 Songs" both on Audio Fidelity). The Analogue Productions issue features the straightforward 8-track LP in one of those round-corner jewel cases, restored artwork, wonderfully clear sound quality and doesn't require SACD playback to get the CD Remaster. However it regularly clocks in at thirty quid or more.

But my personal poison is the 2009 HDCD Audiophile straightforward transfer of the eight track album on Audio Fidelity AFZ 054 (Barcode 780014205423) – a limited Numbered Edition of 3000 (No'd on the rear) which is again a KEVIN GRAY remaster (37:16 minutes). Initial pressings of the HDCD had a glitch just ahead of the "Call Me The Breeze" track where it was mastered with a false start. Mistakes were quickly admitted – it was withdrawn and replaced with the AFZ 054 X suffix (same Barcode) and all was well. The die-cut black and gold card slipcase and the foldout inlay (reproduced artwork, Sounds Of The South logo etc) are both very pretty and the 24KT Gold CD itself looks and feels impressive.

1. Sweet Home Alabama
2. I Need You
3. Don't Ask Me No Questions
4. Workin' For MCA
5. The Ballad Of Curtis Loew [Side 2]
6. Swamp Music
7. The Needle And The Spoon
8. Call Me The Breeze
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 2nd studio album "Second Helping" – released 15 April 1974 in the USA on MCA/Sounds Of The South MCA-413 and June 1974 in the UK on MCA Records MCF 2547. It peaked at No. 12 on the US Album charts.

GARY ROSSINGTON – Lead Guitar (Gibson Les Paul) and Acoustic Guitar
ALLEN COLLINS – Lead Guitar (Gibson Firebird)
ED KING – Guitars (Bass on "I Need You" and "Don't Ask Me No Questions")
BILLY POWELL – Keyboards

CLYDIE KING, SHIRLEY MATTHEWS and MERRY CLAYTON – Backing Vocals on "Sweet Home Alabama"
BOBBY KEYS, TREVOR LAWRENCE and STEVE MADIAO – Horns on "Don't Ask Me No Questions" and "Call Me The Breeze"
AL KOOPER – Producer - also Backing Vocals and Piano on "Don't Ask Me No Questions" and "The Ballad Of Curtis Loew"

But what gets you about this remaster is the clarity on all the instruments. You may have to give "Sweet Home Alabama" a bit of welly on your amp for sure – but when you do - the results are thrilling. This simple, funky and cool tune leaps out of the speakers at you rocking and ready to kick your teeth in (even old Neil would be proud of this). Listen close enough too and you’ll hear the dulcet tones of Merry Clayton who did that duet vocal with Mick Jagger on "Gimme Shelter" back in 1969. Their very best Blues song ever "I Need You" follows. I suspect many die-hard fans see "I Need You" as their penultimate track in truth – a gritty slow burning guitar Blues that captures their truly unique sound - Gary Rossington and Allen Collins battling it out on their Gibson Les Paul and Firebird. It's also a tune fans have had not heard in the live environment for over 45 years - check out the YouTube footage of the new band with Johnny Van Zant on Lead Vocals doing the song in Calgary in March of 2015 for the first time. The take-no-prisoners lyrics and boogie of "Don't Ask Me No Questions" still sounds so spiky – "...I don't ask you about your business...don't ask me about mine..." as those huge brass punches from Bobby Keys, Trevor Lawrence and Steve Madiao add real power. They issued a 7" 'Single Version' of "Don't Ask Me No Questions" April 1974 in the USA on MCA 40231 with the seven-minute non-album "Take Your Time" on the B-side. Ronnie warns of dodgy contracts and fast bucks "...Along comes some city slicker sayin' what I want!" on the staggeringly hard-hitting "Workin' For MCA". I remember thinking - kudos to the label for letting the band vent like that...

Side 2 opens with the life affirming and touching "Ballad Of Curtis Loew" – a young Ronnie enamoured with a black man who'd "...tune up his Dobro..." and play the Blues for a fistful of wine. His mama would whoop him –but Ronnie would go see him again – stunning stuff - and it still gets to me. "Swamp Music" is a down-home 'hound dog' rocker featuring zippy guitar pings and 'fills' from Ed King that will have you doing your best air guitar. The druggy cautionary tale of "The Needle And The Spoon" sounds so close to real life as to be frightening – a band fuelled by Bourbon and other upbeat substances. It ends on their truly fantastic cover version of J. J. Cale's "Call Me The Breeze" (originally on his 1972 Shelter Records debut album "Naturally") – a rollicking barnstormer that sees the trio of brass players come in half way through like a cool breeze. It romps this great Rock LP home in proper gobsmacking style (lyrics from it title this review).

The AF release has been deleted years now and acquired something of a price tag accordingly (as does much of the Audio Fidelity catalogue) – but if you can go the few extra quid – this is one 70ts Classic Rock LP that’s worth the few extra doubloons me hearties...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 245 entries and 2100 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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