(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, January 4, 2010

CD review - The String Quartet Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd - This Sweet Home (2006)

For those who appreciate Southern Rock, there is a schism between fans of the Allman Brothers and fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd. I have always been an Allman Brothers fan: I respect Duane's slide work and loved the jazzy changes that the band could jam through. Lynyrd Skynyrd, though, always had more fans, with simpler songs and a better feel for the popular pulse. Maybe that's why I didn't care for them as much -- I had heard all of the songs far too many times: Sweet Home Alabama, Gimme Three Steps, and the major offender, Freebird. To be fair, they do have some decent tunes, they just don't come to mind as readily.

For the holidays, my siblings-in-law decided to torture er, bless me with this tribute album. To be fair, it was a gag gift, so I can't complain too much. Vitamin Records has developed a business (over 180 albums) recording string arrangement cover albums for a wide variety of artists and styles. Looking at their site, I saw their versions of Warren Zevon, Tool, and Slayer among others. I may well check out some of those in the future. As I started playing the disc, I hoped it might be as interesting as Kronos Quartet's Purple Haze.

The album leads off with Gimme Three Steps. Unfortunately, it was a straight, if slightly stiff, cover, with the violins playing fiddle licks. This song has especially weak lyrics, so an instrumental version was a slight improvement:
I was cuttin' the rug down at a place called The Jug With a girl named Linda Lou When, in walked a man with a gun in his hand And he was looking for you-know-who He said, "Hey there fellow with the hair colored yellow, What you tryin' to prove? Cause that's my woman there and I'm a man who cares And this might be all for you"
The opening line is contrived enough, but the fellow/yellow rhyme is just awkward.

Still, though, This Sweet Home did improve. One More Time is a pleasant enough arrangement that hints at a chamber music approach, but still stays fairly close to the original. A high point was their arrangement of Tuesday's Gone. The original is a decent sentimental song and this version thickens the treacle a bit, but the multi-part harmonies and cello/violin parts fit together nicely.

Comin' Home also worked well in this format, in part because Skynyrd had a more interesting melody and some good dynamics. The pizzicato intro echoes the original's guitars. The sparse first verse builds into a richer chorus. The beginning of the bridge takes on a more chamber music sound before descending into a closer cover of the guitar solos. The last verse builds up more of a fugue arrangement than the earlier verses. This piece stands well enough on its own, as well as being an interesting cover.

The liveliest song was an original , Gonna Fly Again Someday, which was inspired by Lynyrd Skynyrd's music. The melody sounds quite familiar, but it works. It's more playful than the rest of the disc, which makes it more fun to listen to.

On the whole, this was an interesting album, which worked best when the violins didn't slip into fiddle riffs.

By the way, their version of Freebird was tolerable. I recommend some sour mash and a splash of white wine when you listen to This Sweet Home.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed listening to this, and have added several of the tunes to my "work" play list. The album says something about "baroque", which is pretty far off the mark. For me the disk does work when they go with the fiddle riffs, which is true to the original. However, "one more time" may be my favorite piece on the CD.