God & Guns (Roadrunner/Warner)
In the very first Payback column the Straight ever published I was called a “Skynyrd-loving moron” by a ticked-off Lou Reed fan, and—thanks to incessant reminders from caring colleagues Mike Usinger and John Lucas—have never been allowed to forget it. In a way I was proud of the label, though, because back in the day I viewed Lynyrd Skynyrd as godlike, and ’70s albums such as Second Helping and Street Survivors were my desert island discs (Reed’s Metal Machine Music didn’t make the cut). But with the release of God & Guns I’m gonna have to denounce my love of the Southern-rock stalwarts once and for all.
Today’s lineup barely resembles the Skynyrd I adored, anyway. With the January 2009 death of keyboardist Billy Powell at the age of 56, guitarist Gary Rossington is the only member still breathing from the band’s “Free Bird” heyday. The current group—which has been fronted since its 1987 reformation by Ronnie Van Zant’s little brother Johnny—is proficient enough, but the shit-kicking Southern zeal of old has now been withered by a mainstream vibe that veers toward the artistic no-man’s-land of commercial country. How the mighty have fallen.
But the worst thing about today’s Lynyrd Skynyrd is embodied by the CD’s NRA-approved title. If these guys are so entrenched in their redneck ways that they still believe, in the scorched-earth aftermath of George W. Bush, that religion and weaponry is the way to go, then that’s just plain sad. I’m sure Johnny Van Zant thinks he’s on the righteous path when he sings, in the anti-Obama title track: “Out here in my neck of the woods, where God is great and guns are good, you really can’t know that much about ’em, if you think we’re better off without ’em.” Maybe someone should explain to him that when his bro penned the lyrics to the deathless “Saturday Night Special” back in ’74 he was condemning handguns, not praising them. The line “Why don’t we dump ’em, people, to the bottom of the sea,” is a dead giveaway.
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