Various Artists

Under the Influence: A Jam Band Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd

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For starters, this is just a plain bad idea. Lynyrd Skynyrd were about as far from being a "jam band" as you could get -- the live version of "Free Bird" notwithstanding. The next part is that almost none of the acts featured here -- judging by performances -- have a clue as to what the band they are "paying tribute" to was really about (Gov't Mule, the Drive-By Truckers, and the North Mississippi Allstars are the only exceptions -- and the latter two are not "jam bands" anyway). For starters, Les Claypool's camp versions of a Skynyrd classic like "Call Me the Breeze" (written by J.J. Cale) is nearly sacrilegious for its tuneless fake funk. Galactic fares little better by taking the raw, swampy, edgy guitar scorch out of "Saturday Night Special." The Mule redeem things a bit with their fine, soulful version of "Simple Man," which features Warren Haynes digging deeply inside himself to deliver Ronnie Van Zant's lyrics. The North Mississippi Allstars get "Whiskey Rock a Roller" mostly right, though it's a bit restrained and the vocal just doesn't get it. The travesty that is moe.'s "Ballad of Curtis Loew," with the truly awful, affected vocals of John Hiatt, is worth mention only because it just may be the worst Lynyrd Skynyrd cover on record. Blues Traveler's attempted reworking of "Free Bird" works not at all. The Truckers get the heart, soul, blood, and guts of the "Every Mother's Son" lyric, and leave the guitars all distorted and nasty -- thank God. And so it goes. From the overwrought "Sweet Home Alabama" by Big Head Todd to the lifeless funk of Disco Biscuits' read of "Gimme the Steps" to the Yonder Mountain String Band's "Four Walls of Raiford" (sounding more like "Long Black Veil" than the tune they're supposed to be playing) to Particle's slick keyboard and drum'n'bass-driven riffs that permeate "Workin' for the MCA," it's all blather and nonsense. Far from a tribute to one of the greatest and most innovative rock & roll bands ever to grace a stage, Under the Influence feels more like a slap in the face.

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