Various Artists

Best of Pickin' on Lynyrd Skynyrd

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Well, it had to happen, didn't it? Actually, one wonders what took the CMH All-stars to record a tribute to Southern sons Lynyrd Skynyrd. Better late than never, right? Don't look for any of the bluesy fire and beer-drenched swampiness of the band in question in these sounds. The music here is positively restrained, refined, and tame; that said, this disc is enjoyable. This ensemble, containing anywhere from 11 to 13 players on any given track, is tight, rehearsed and, unlike other CMH "tributes," they know how to take these tunes and polish them until they shine. The other difference is that right up front all of these players are credited. And making this is a decidedly non-bluegrass outing, there are electric guitars, including pedal steel, and drums (one of the drum chairs belongs to no less than Kenny Malone). There's fiddle, dobro, banjo, and mandolin to be sure, but there is also a piano, a clarinet, a saxophone, and a harmonica player to boot. Perhaps the Earl Scruggs review stretched the category back in the '70s enough to warrant this, but the bottom line is that this is simply contemporary instrumental music of the tunes of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Standout tracks include the moody, brooding "That Smell," the lonesome slow country waltz of "Tuesday's Gone," the honky tonk strut of "What's Your Name?," and of course an utterly transformed "Free Bird," with a harmonica playing the part of the melody Ronnie Van Zant. "The Needle & the Spoon," is the most "bluegrass thing here," but even so, it comes off as a backporch blues. This is pretty fine for what it is.

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