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5.0 out of 5 stars Putting the rock in Country Rock, 12 Oct. 2012
By 
Fergal Woods "Axe Victim" (Leitrim, Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Outlaws/Lady In Waiting (Audio CD)
This pairing has always been the yardstick against which I judge all country rock recordings. As far as I'm concerned the sound they created on these albums defines the genre. The Outlaws, through line-up changes, moved more directly into the Southern Rock category with later releases, but these first 2 recordings are unlike anything else that was ever released by Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, Atlanta Rhythm Section or ZZ Top. It was with utter delight when I discovered that EMI France had released both LPs on a single CD around the turn of the Millenium.

The original records came out in 1975 and '76 on the Arista label. The Outlaws had 3 lead vocalists with corresponding outstanding harmony, but more importantly had 2 superb guitarists in Hughie Thomasson on Stratocaster and Billy Jones who favoured Les Pauls. Their guitar sound was like a country rock version of Wishbone Ash at their best, with the choice of either swapping solos or playing twin harmonies. The music was optimistic, playful and carefree and except for "Freeborn Man" on "Lady in Waiting" (also covered by Glen Campbell) totally self-composed. Songs are very much upbeat with high harmonies and sparkling solos evident throughout both albums.

The CD's opener "There goes another Love Song" was a sizeable hit single, and gave the Florida group their initial breakthrough. Apart from the very lively instrumental "Waterhole" vocals were shared out evenly, and "chicken-pickin" guitar fitted seamlessly in and out of more classic blues-rock tones. Harmonies were outstanding as both lead guitarists had high tenor voices which complemented the lower country twang of Henry Paul (later to front the very successful Blackhawk).

As if great vocals, guitar and harmonies weren't enough these boys wrote extremely catchy choruses - I still can't avoid singing along after nearly 37 years! "It Follows from Your Heart" bucked the trend when displaying Billy Jones prowess at writing softer, slower tunes. Probably the albums 2nd most important song after the single was the epic guitar workout "Green Grass and High Tides" which was definitely more rock than country and was the Outlaws answer to "Free Bird" (Green Grass stretched to over 20 minutes on their later Live Double release). I'm not going to compare these 2 songs but what is most entertaining is hearing the contrast between the styles (and sounds) of both Outlaw soloists. This album doesn't have a weak track in sight and is high up in my list of Desert Island Discs!

"Lady in Waiting" is another amazing album. Starting with another single "Breaker Breaker" (which just broke into the US Top 100) the band came up with another clutch of catchy country rockers with a nice spread across the genre's spectrum. Paul's "South Carolina" featured Albert Lee - type nimble picking with both guitarists blazing away on a straight country track. Jones again came up with more laid back bluesier numbers in "Ain't So Bad" and "Prisoner" where the dual guitars on the former cast a nod in the direction of the Allmans, and the latter has no real country influences at all.

"Freeborn Man" is pure country until the tempo changes and the transformation into a heavy boogie is one of many highlights of this album. This pairing makes a lot of sense musically as the style on both is identical - strong melodies, strong harmonies, the 3 different songwriters styles and a feel good mood that just doesn't let you go. "Lover Boy" is another track which speeds up, and fades out with some muscular interplay between Jones and Thomasson. The album closer again moves the band nearer to Southern Rock, except for the ensemble singing through the choruses. The long instrumental section shows great use of dynamics, and is probably more musical than either of the 2 musical icons referred to above!

I can't recommend this coupling higher. The music sounds as good now as when first released, and I feel the band was unfortunate to have come (and gone) before CMT came on the scene, and Nashville resorted to hiring rock producers to move country closer to rock and pop. They never really achieved the commercial success they deserved, and despite several near misses didn't ever quite reach the same artistic or creative levels they so effortlessly attained with these magnificent recordings.
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Outlaws/Lady In Waiting
Outlaws/Lady In Waiting by Outlaws (Audio CD - 2008)
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