Thursday, 5 January 2017

"Nuthin' Fancy" by LYNYRD SKYNYRD (1999 MCA 'Expanded Edition' CD - Doug Schwartz Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Mister Saturday Night Special..."

I can recall that at the time Lynyrd Skynyrd's 3rd studio album "Nuthin' Fancy" was greeted with favourable press reviews all round (Billboard called it their best and most mature work) - but after the absolute Southern Rock 'Sounds Of The South' highs of "Pronounced" in 1973 and especially 1974's brilliant "Second Helping" - fans initially felt the new album was a let down.

On first listen it wasn't as immediate as the previous two - lacked that first-flush sparkle (years honing the material) and had that very obvious hurried done-on-the-hoof feel with an equally humdrum front sleeve and screw you message on the rear (Keyboard Player Billy Powell giving two fingers to the camera). A body might have gotten the impression that Alabama's finest triple-guitar band really didn't give a skunk's turd for what was on the record and were already showing signs of being burnt out after years of relentless touring. As Ron O'Brien's superb liner notes tell us - "Nuthin' Fancy" initially charted big at No. 9 with a bullet (went Gold) but had no legs and left the charts a mere 20 weeks later. After the top-ten 7" single peak of "Sweet Home Alabama" at No. 8 the year prior - the album's lone 45 "Saturday Night Special" stalled at No. 23 Stateside in July and didn't chart at all in the UK. By autumn 1975 the LP was all but forgotten and only years later became a permanent bargain bin fodder item in secondhand record shops everywhere…

But time and fans have warmed to this 'unadorned' little gem – this simple man and his stories LP - and I personally prefer it to the over-praised debut with "Freebird" (a sacrilegious and scurrilous statement I know). It also helps that Doug Schwartz's 1999 CD Remaster is just right - punchy and alive – and beautifully clear without ever being overdone or over trebled. Here are the Made In The Shade details...

UK released November 1999 (August 1999 in the USA) - "Nuthin' Fancy" by LYNYRD SKYNYRD on MCA 112 024-2 (Barcode 008811202422) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster of their 3rd album from 1975 with Two Bonus Tracks that plays out as follows (49:12 minutes):

1. Saturday Night Special
2. Cheatin' Woman
3. Railroad Song
4. I'm A Country Boy
5. On The Hunt [Side 2]
6. Am I Losin'
7. Made In The Shade
8. Whiskey Rock-A Roller
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 3rd studio album "Nuthin' Fancy" - released 24 March 1975 in the USA on MCA Records MCA-2137 and May 1975 in the UK on MCA Records MCF 2700. Produced by AL KOOPER - the LP peaked at No. 9 and No. 43 in the US and UK album charts.

9. Railroad Song (Live)
10. On The Hunt (Live)
Tracks 9 and 10 are Previously Unreleased - recorded 27 April 1975 live at Bill Graham's Winterland in San Francisco, California

RONNIE VAN ZANT - Lead Vocals, Lyrics and More
ED KING - Lead Guitars (Fender Stratocaster and Gibson SG)
ALLEN COLLINS - Guitars (Gibson Firebird) and Backing Vocals
GARY ROSSINGTON - Lead Guitar (Gibson Les Paul)
BILLY POWELL - Keyboards
LEON WILKESON - Bass (Fender) and Backing Vocals on "Saturday Night Special", "Railroad Song" and "I'm A Country Boy"
ARTIMUS PYLE - Drums and Percussion

AL KOOPER - Keyboards, Backing Vocals and Percussion
Moog Synths on "Saturday Night Special", Organ on "Cheatin' Woman" and Piano on "Made In The Shade"
Backing Vocals on "Railroad Song", "Am I Losin' and "Whiskey Rock-A Roller"
Percussion on "I'm A Country Boy"
JIMMY HALL - Harmonica on "Railroad Song" and "Made In The Shade"
BARRY HARWOOD - Mandolins & Dobro on "Made In The Shade"
DAVID FOSTER - Backing Vocals on "Whiskey Rock-A Roller"

The 12-page booklet is nicely laid out - very in-depth and accurate liner notes and photo contributions from RON O'BRIEN - the usual reissue credits (good names like Andy McKaie and Beth Stempel coordinated the reissue) - but it drops the ball just a little. Fans will know that American copies of the LP had an inner sleeve with a photo-collage on one side and lyrics/credits on the other (British issues had an insert with the same). The photos turn up on Page 3 but the lyrics are AWOL - a bit of a dumb oversight really and especially on an album where the songs are so Van Zant personal. And frankly the two supposed Bonus Tracks feel very substandard to me in audio quality despite being recorded literally one month after the LP's release and Ronnie's praise of the Bill Graham audience. But all of that goes out the window when you return to the music of the album proper - now fitted out with wickedly good new audio courtesy of restoration and transfer from DOUG SCHWARTZ (he did two of the huge Stax Box Sets and a lot of work for Capitol Records).

"Saturday Night Special" was recorded April 1974 and was the only song in the can for the new LP – so the other seven had to be written as the band arrived in the studio in January 1975 – only days after a near yearlong touring gruel. "Saturday..." kicks off the album in high boozy bar-brawlin' style – a hooky riff with that distinctive Lynyrd Skynyrd sound. "Cheatin' Woman" is the first of the new stuff and is the kind of LP nugget that gets overlooked – a fabulous slinky guitar groove anchored but a superb Al Kooper keyboard funk as Ronnie gets all angst-in-his-pants about his woman's less than angelic ways. Jimmy Hall gives it some Harmonica as "Railroad Song" chugs into life like a freight train carrying our hero – cold, tired and dirty – a hobo being run out of town by the hoi polloi of Hicksville who want their town respectable. Ronnie rages against concrete in "I'm A Country Boy" song - and as he sings "...Big city town don't bother me...don't like smoke chokin' up my head..." - it goes into a very cool middle eight.

Side 2 opens with another rocker - the attacking guitar riffage of "On The Hunt" - and again the Remaster is amazing - the band sounding like Free at their Seventies best. The Acoustic Rock of "Am I Losin'" is a 'drinking wine with one of my friends' song and feels very "Mardi Gras" Creedence in its style and longing. The coke-crates Jug Band Americana sound to "Made In The Shade" is deliberate and works so well. "Whiskey Rock-A Roller" is just a good old boys raunch - the kind of 'suitcase by my side' boogie tune Lynyrd Skynyrd gargled for breakfast.

It's funny how some albums grow into something great despite the circumstance that surrounded their making. It's said the band thought "Nuthin' Fancy" only 'ok' - lacklustre even compared to what had gone before. But fans have taken its warm-hearted personality and simplicity to heart and over the decades it’s become the fave for many. And on this cool sounding Remaster - it's easy to hear why...

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