Skynyrd broadly fit into the hard-driving improvisational blues format pioneered by the Allman Brothers, although the band’s welcome bent for brevity keeps most of the tracks tight and to the point. On the other hand, their nine-minute “Freebird” jumps out of the group’s debut LP: It offers a tour of blues guitar expertise, conducted by Allen Collins and to riveting effect. In fact, Skynyrd work with three lead guitarists, a density of stringy instrumentation at times recalling Byrds as much as Allmans.
Eclectic (a shared predilection for much Southern rock), Skynyrd leans on everyone from Rolling Stones (“Tuesday’s Gone”) and Ry Cooder (“Things Goin’ On”) to Lovin’ Spoonful (“Gimme Three Steps”). Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant mostly sounds like Keith Relf imitating Mick Jagger. Al Kooper’s unobtrusively dapper production emphasizes the English connection with ever an eye to poppy parts, a mellotron here, electric 12-string there. But the blunter blues tracks form the album’s meat with cuts like “Simple Man” revealing a no-nonsense powerhouse rock unit of modest proportions but considerable promise.
When Lynyrd Skynyrd harks back to Allmans and Wet Willies, Mose Jones suggest John Fred or the Box Tops, appealing to the Top 40 heritage of white Southern rock. Jones (previously called Stonehenge) forfeit Skynyrd’s energy, relying instead on Uncle Al’s dandy studio sweetenings — if one can ignore for the moment an atrocious Kooper gospel goof, “Get Right (With God),” which unfortunately opens, closes and gives Jones’ album a title.
The band’s style ranges between spruced-up acid rock (“Here We Go Again” — a Moody Blues rerun), loping New York Rascals soul (“Kiwi Stumble Boogie”) and Motown — modified Allmans (“What Kind of Woman Would Do That” — one of the record’s better cuts, conceptually and musically). While vocalist Randy Lewis strongly recalls the Guess Who’s Burton Cummings, the band, with Kooper at the controls, proves adroit in all fashion of disguises.
Kooper handles Jones as well as Skynyrd, but ultimately it is the latter’s intensity that impresses most. Both bands could profit from a more concentrated and single-minded approach, even where proficiency partially forgives virtual parody. But for Skynyrd at least, magnolia muscle carries the day: a significant victory for Kooper’s Southern Strategy.