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Living up to legacies

On releases from Lynyrd Skynyrd and a family of Dylans

Steve Thorne/Redferns/Getty Images

Living up to legacies

In rock ’n’ roll, the only thing harder than creating a legacy is perpetuating one.

Consider Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose recent box Nothing Comes Easy: 1991-2012 (Cherry Red) gathers the 4½ albums that the band’s Mach 2 incarnation recorded for Atlantic and Roadrunner.

As fronted from 1973 to 1977 by Ronnie Van Zant, Skynyrd combined hard rock, Southern boogie, and gimlet-­eyed observations bordering on the philosophical into a potent brew.

As fronted from 1987 to the present by Ronnie’s younger brother Johnny, who helped resurrect the band after a 1977 plane crash killed Ronnie, guitarist Steve Gaines, and Gaines’ background-singing sister Cassie, Skynyrd has become a curious case of old wineskins and new wine.

Initially, the presence of Mach 1’s Gary Rossington, Ed King, Leon Wilkeson, and Billy Powell guaranteed continuity. Then all but Rossington began dying, and attenuation began setting in—especially in politics.

Skynyrd under Ronnie was hard to peg: Conservatives and liberals claim “Sweet Home Alabama” for their own. Under Johnny, the band has become a Deplorable’s dream, cranking out sizzling anthems to freedom, faith, and family.

Nothing Comes Easy includes 1991, The Last Rebel, God & Guns, the God & Guns bonus EP, and Last of a Dyin’ Breed, which includes the literal altar call “Start Livin’ Life Again.” Would that the box had focused on such highlights and collated them into a single-disc, or maybe a double-disc, best-of.

Even Skynyrd, after all, seems to know that its latter-day oeuvre could stand some pruning. The only Mach 2 song in the group’s current live set? “Skyn­yrd Nation.”

An even weightier legacy than Skyn­yrd’s is Bob Dylan’s. To be fair, both Dylan’s 51-year-old son Jakob and Dylan’s 25-year-old grandson Pablo insist they’re not paying it any mind. Only Jakob can make that denial with a straight face.

Exit Wounds (New West), the latest album by Jakob’s band-in-name-only the Wallflowers, contains nothing Dylanesque unless a vague resemblance to Dire Straits and Tom Petty counts. From its medium tempos and nondescript hooks to lyrics that could be randomly shuffled from one song to another with little loss of “meaning,” it’s dull.

There’s nothing dull about Pablo’s first two 2021 EPs, Solitude and Fortitude (Columbia) (there’s a third on the way), mainly because they take homage-paying to an almost comic extreme.

Following in his grandfather’s melody-appropriating ways, the former teenage hip-hopper rewrites “The Times They Are A-Changin’” as “Behold ’Tis Autumn,” “I Want You” as “I Descend My Westward Course,” “When You Gonna Wake Up” as “Shadow of the Guard,” and “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” as “The Massacre at Fort Pillow,” cramming each with more socio-historically cross-referencing syllables than anyone but an ex-rapper with the subterranean homesick blues could spit out.

Even the dense, wild-mercury sound rings a bell.

Arsenio Orteza

Arsenio is a music reviewer for WORLD Magazine and one of its original contributors from 1986. Arsenio resides in China.



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