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A little hit-or-miss, but a fine album overall
on 11 March 2004
Let me start by saying I'm not a knowledgeable Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. Of course, everyone knows Freebird, the greatest Southern rock anthem of all time, and just about everyone still mourns the loss of original front man Ronnie Van-Zant (as well as guitarist Steve Gaines) in a 1977 plane crash, but my familiarity with the band doesn't go much deeper than this. When I heard this album's title track The Last Rebel, though, I knew I had to have this album. As both a proud Southerner and a man who oftentimes finds himself in a minority of one on certain issues, this song appealed to me on two levels. The music and lyrics combine to evoke vivid images of a Rebel soldier, alone and defeated yet still proud and resilient, leaving the scarred battleground to return home; it's a haunting track that, through front-man Johnny Van-Zant's gritty, hard-driving vocals, evokes a vivid image of that Southern soldier trying to find his way home in a world that has changed forever.
The album as a whole is a little hit-and-miss, in my opinion. There are some really great tracks, but there also some tracks that really just don't seem to do anything for me. The band seems to be going through the motions at times, but when Johnny Van-Zant sings about the South and bemoans a way of life that is quickly disappearing, his voice roils with an angst-filled emotional power that takes the music to a whole new level. Thus are born such winning songs as Can't Take That Away, Outta Hell in my Dodge, Kiss Your Freedom Goodbye, South of Heaven, and Born to Run. What some will call "redneck" songs actually resonate with fans all over the country for their lament for moral decline, the demise of small towns and small town values, and the code of honor that has always been a part of being a Southerner. Can't Take That Away is a particularly timely song today, as it rises up to challenge those who want to denigrate the flag, do away with the Pledge of Allegiance, and take away any association with God from the United States. Those South of Heaven will always fight for the ideals upon which this country was founded, and that is what Lynyrd Skynyrd sings about.
A few tracks on this album seem to take the band away from their origins, and the attempt to inject a more pop-oriented sound into the music finds unhappy results. Good Lovin's Hard to Find and Best Things in Life have an element of "good time sound" to them but really don't speak to me at all. They aren't bad songs, but they become tiresome rather quickly. The album does end on a strong note, however, as Born to Run not only speaks to Lynyrd Skynyrd's core themes but provides plenty of opportunity to Gary Rossington to play his guitar the way he alone can play it. Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives on this 1993 release.