Street Survivors [Deluxe Edition]

Three days after the release of Street Survivors, in 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie VanZant and guitarist Steve Gaines died in a plane crash that severelyinjured the rest of the band members. But even without the addedresonance of tragedy, the album's second track, "That Smell," would havestood out in the band's catalog: It bites the chord progression and theapocalyptic vibe of "All Along the Watchtower" for a tale of the "smellof death" that surrounds a character trapped in drug addiction (and apretty heavy habit at that: The lyrics allude to coke, weed, alcohol andludes). The swampy groove and Van Zant's bluesy, understated vocals — listen to his offhandedly contemptuous delivery of the line"stuck a needle in your arm" — manage to sustain the ominous moodeven when the female backing singers harmonize on the phrase "Hell,yeah!" Early versions of "That Smell" (including a slower take thatcomes in at seven and a half minutes, thanks to epic, "Freebird"-worthyguitar duels) are the highlight of the bonus disc here, which includes amore stripped-down early version of the entire album. Street Survivorswas the most meticulously crafted record of the original Skynyrd'seleven-year career and, as a result, their most consistent: Album openerand classic-rock-radio staple "What's Your Name" is the second-greatestgroupie song of all time (next to "Stray Cat Blues"), and theAllmans-esque "I Never Dreamed" is its flip side, a redneck-emo tale oflady-killer machismo thwarted by love: "I've had a thousand, maybemore/But never one like you," Van Zant sings, as the lead guitars matchhim, lament for lament. Perhaps best of all is the band's raucouslyvirtuosic take on Merle Haggard's "Honky Tonk Night Time Man," whichoverflows with gorgeous country riffs that sound like pure chicken-friedjoy. And Van Zant's voice is rich and authentic enough to make you mournthe pure country album he never got to record.

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