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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Remastered sound leaves much to be desired, 16 Oct 2012
Fergal Woods "Axe Victim" (Leitrim, Ireland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Playing to Win/Ghost Riders (Audio CD)
Hot on the heels of their "Bring It Back Alive" double album (released in early 1978) The Outlaws went back into the studios. Minus the departed Henry Paul the band now had 4 lead vocalists, 3 lead guitarists, 2 drummers and one new producer - Mutt Lange (of Def Leppard, and Shania Twain fame). While the live shows and album nailed their mast firmly to the brotherhood of Southern Rock, the Tampa group led a double life in the studio. This was an environment with which they were becoming increasingly comfortable and willing to take musical chances. This album perfectly illustrates their ability to cross genres to come up with a sound that was totally their own.

This broadening of horizons made the Outlaws difficult to categorise and (presumably) to market. What did remain constant were their superb guitar playing and their outstanding harmonies. What guitar band has ever come up with a track with such sublime vocal harmony as "If Dreams Came True"? "A Real Good Feeling" did come across as homage to Poco's "Good Feeling to Know" and featured lovely steel playing from Thomasson. This song ended as most Outlaws song do with quite beautiful fretwork, with their trademark of stereo panning the guitars to left and right, and the swapping of breaks.

The album's opening tracks both introduced time changes with "Take It Anyway You Want It" a straight rock song until the speeded up section which has exciting vocal interplay and rock'n'roll piano playing. "Cry Some More" is a Progressive country rocker, with stops, building harmonies, funky time changes and glorious guitar - all this in just over 3 and a half minutes. "You Are the Show" which followed, started as a ballad but the injection of a metal riff is followed in hot pursuit by a fast solo and a second riff. This showed how much the band's studio craft had progressed from their earlier recordings. "You Can Have It" could have been an out-take from "Lady in Waiting", but the instrumental middle eight showed new influences

"Love at First Sight" was nearer pop than either Country Rock or Southern Rock and again featured their almost impossibly high harmonies. Newcomer (he had appeared on the live double) Freddie Salem sang and wrote "Falling Rain" (again with steel accompaniment). Despite strong sounding vocals and more lovely harmonies the number is probably the weakest on the album. I presume Lange came up with the idea of "Dirty City" by the Scottish band Sutherland Brothers and Quiver. I've always thought this a missed opportunity. Lange made the group sound more like the Doobie Brothers, and even with good guitar and a heavier treatment it didn't really improve on the original. Again those of us waiting for another "Green Grass and High Tides" or "Stick Around for Rock'n'Roll" were to be disappointed!

Like the preceding studio release "Hurry Sundown" I find the final 3 songs to be somewhat of an anti-climax. There is also a problem with this so-called re-master, which has a number of issues. These include reduced bass, distorted "S" sounds ("Love at First Sight" has horrible clipped peaks which are also evident on another 2 or 3 songs) and notes missing from the intro to "Cry Some More". This is still the only available digital version of this album, and these blemishes are extremely obvious when listening through headphones.

The coupling is "Ghost Riders" from 1980. Sound again is slightly on the harsh side, and some of this problem is due to the original reverb settings. The title track suffers from a cluttered sound (too many guitars). Overall the band was obviously aiming for a heavier feel, but this was only partially successful. Production did not recreate the clarity and separation evident on their earlier releases. Now firmly in the Southern Rock stable tracks were longer and trademark harmonies cut back. Solos became more predictable, and the lovely twin guitar runs were more sparingly used. "Devil's Road" was perhaps the strongest of the first 4 songs and was a very punchy rock number with muscular guitar, but the heavier and more prominent rhythm guitars obscured the lead breaks in a way that hadn't happened before

"I Can't Stop Loving You" was a strange choice but Thomasson delivered a memorable vocal. Again questionable reverb spoiled the instrumental backing track. The remaining 3 songs saw the band in better form - catchy choruses and more melodic guitar playing. "Sunshine" resembled "Prisoner" from the first Outlaws LP - a nice sprawling blues. The song changes tack 2 minutes from the end and closes with a nice guitar workout, which again suffers from over-production. Billy Jones wrote the closer "Freedom Walk" which is far and away the album's outstanding track. It sounds less contrived than the rest of the album and has lovely harmony guitars with an optimistic chorus and arguably their best guitar workout since "Stick Around For Rock'N'Roll" - pity they didn't leave the tape running!

Overall this album is a hard one to rank. The sound is not awful but not as good as this band deserves, and "Playing to Win" in particular suffers. "Ghost Riders" is not as good an album and a lot of this is due to Gary Lyons original production. Bass is still not high enough on this re-master so it remains to be seen whether some company like BGO will grasp the nettle and give a proper re-mastered job to this deserving material. Longstanding fans will also be aware that "Los Hombres Malo" was one of the worst mixed albums of the 80's and could also use some "cleaning up". 3 stars, and fingers crossed!
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