The name Van Zant is synonymous with the development of American southern rock. The oldest of three brothers who make up what has been described as the south’s “first family” was, of course, the late Ronnie Van Zant, frontman of the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd – the band who singularly put the genre on the map – until his untimely death in 1977. Middle brother Donnie tried his best to inherit his big brother’s mantle with .38 Special, while the youngest of the siblings, Johnny, was handed the same uneviable task when he picked up the microphone for the return of Skynyrd a decade after that infamous ‘plane crash…
Almost inevitably, the two surviving brothers would at some stage come together… and so they did in 1998, when they recorded the first of a series of four collaborative albums, released over the course of the next years, which saw them explore the country side of suvern music: it was a project which could perhaps be regarded as a piece of unfinished business, as Ronnie Van Zant had always stated his desire to record a country album.
Ironically, due to various other commitments and circumstances, the two surviving brothers toured together only once, in early 2006 – just after they had actually smashed their way into the Top Ten of the US country charts with the single ‘Help Somebody’. Only one show on the tour was recorded: it was in Valdosta, Georgia on 28 January – and even that was a matter of happenstance, as it only came about because Skynyrd/.38 Special bassist Larry ‘LJ’ Junstrom had recently invested in a then-new Pro Tools rig and wanted to try it out… However, despite being initially well received by Donnie VZ, the recordings lay neglected for nigh on a decade… until, as they say in all the best circles, now…
The set draws heavily on the Van Zant brothers’ 2005 album ‘Get Right With The Man’ – which spawned the aforementioned hit single and itself peaked at No 2 in the country album charts – featuring no less than nine of its 11 tracks and kicking off with the first three songs – ‘Takin’ Up Space’, ‘Ain’t Nobody Gonna Tell Me What To Do’ and ‘Sweet Mama’ – in order. In between, the boys also play cognisance to their better-known projects, with the inclusion of a countrified version of .38 Special’s anthem ‘Wild Eyed Southern Boys’ and the spirited, defiant ‘Red White & Blue’, which they had co-written for Skynyrd’s 2003 album ‘Vicious Cycle’. They appropriately draw the album to a close with a duo of songs dedicated to their departed big brother, in the form of ‘Call Me The Breeze’ and the ever flag-waving ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, both of which are delivered with affection if slightly restrained aplomb.
With Donnie Van Zant now having retired from the music business, due to persistent health issues he experienced in the early part of this decade, this live album is truly a moment in history which never will be repeated. Yes, it does portray more of the brothers’ country leanings than their coincidental rockier careers, but it does serve to show the origins of the sound which helped them to become more famous outside the southern states.
Tracklist: Takin’ Up Space / Ain’t Nobody Gonna Tell Me What To Do / Sweet Mama / Wild Eyed Southern Boys / Things I Miss The Most / I Know My History / Help Somebody / Plain Jane / I Can’t Help Myself / I’m Doin’ Alright / Red White & Blue / My Kind Of Country / Call Me The Breeze / Sweet Home Alabama
Recommended listening: Sweet Mama
‘Red White & Blue (Live) is released by Loud And Proud Records on 29 July.