CD Review: Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama

This classic Rockpalast performance makes its CD debut.
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In 1996, nearly a decade after defying the odds by reuniting and nearly two decades after the plane crash that almost ended the band for good - and did end them for a decade - Lynyrd Skynyrd made an appearance on the famed German music program Rockpalast. Now, nearly two decades later, this classic performance makes its first appearance on CD as Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama.

Johnny Van Zant, who has been the singer since the band reunited in 1987, taking the place of his late brother Ronnie, handles vocals on the 1996 show. The performance opens with a gritty "Workin' For MCA," with Van Zant in fine voice. The song showcases the band's masterful ability to blend hard rock guitar riffs with southern overtones, creating a sound uniquely their own. "I Ain't The One," from the band's 1973 debut follows and features some killer lead guitar over an infectious riff that wouldn't seem out of place in the Aerosmith catalog.

The original band managed several classics that are staples on classic rock radio to this day and the band delivers potent renditions of all of them. "Saturday Night Special" has the same bite as the original with Van Zant doing his brother's original vocal justice with a strong lead of his own. The group gives a spot-on performance of "What's Your Name," with Van Zant's edgier voice giving the song more of a country feel than the original.

The show ends with two of the group's best-known songs in "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird." The former is a punchy, though faithful version while the latter is a 12-minute guitar tour de force. The band proves in this tight, rocking set that they are the winners and still champions of southern rock.

A short set of a 1974 German appearance by the original band is included as a bonus and, as all three songs are included in the 1996 set, it serves as an excellent comparison of the two versions of the group. The sound quality, while not as good as the Rockpalast material, is still quite good and finds the band in fine form.

Nearly 20 years after they reformed in 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd keeps touring and making records. They have survived numerous lineup changes and the tragic loss of several of their members over the years, yet they remain masters of their craft. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama finds the band offering their brand of southern rock for an enthusiastic German audience and is a fine live document of this lineup of the band.