Rarities Edition: Street Survivors

Lynyrd Skynyrd

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Rarities Edition: Street Survivors Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Universal’s Rarities Edition series whittles their Deluxe Edition series down to a single disc containing nothing but the non-LP cuts; it’s a repackaging of a classic album minus the album itself, designed for listeners who never replaced their original copies with the double-disc reissue, but want the second disc as a supplement. This disc fills out the final chapter of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd’s career by presenting the complete original version of Street Survivors, recorded with legendary producer Tom Dowd at Criteria Studios but scrapped when the group's live sound engineer, Kevin Elson, argued that these versions sounded lifeless. The album was subsequently rejiggered with a mix of re-recording, additional production, and remixing, plus the addition of a couple of older songs to the record ("One More Time" dates from 1971 sessions at Muscle Shoals, while "I Know a Little" is a song guitarist Steve Gaines had before he joined Skynyrd in 1976), all of which helped turn the album into arguably the band's best. The instincts of Elson -- who was supported by Gaines, as revealed in the excellent liner notes by Ron O'Brien on this set -- turn out to be correct, as the Criteria version of Street Survivors is a bit tight and stiff, sounding more like a typical professional arena rock production from 1977 than the finished set, which makes it interesting from an archaeological perspective, at the very least. Skynyrd do sound well-honed, hitting all the notes precisely, but they lack the full-blown, red-blooded roar that made the original so invigorating. All of this explains why the album was tweaked considerably before its release, and a reissue like this serves the historical record well by preserving this -- even if it merely confirms conventional wisdom, it's good to hear it first-hand, plus there is only a limited amount of music recorded by the original one, so it's hard not to value whatever was left behind. And this lineup of Skynyrd was certainly a great one, something that is apparent even on these slightly stilted originals, especially because they're not all slightly stilted: there's an extended guitar workout on the original version of "That Smell," a cheerful blues shuffle called "Georgia Peaches" that didn't make the final cut (it did appear on the previous expanded 2001 reissue), and "Jacksonville Kid," Ronnie Van Zant's brilliant rewrite of Merle Haggard 's "Honky Tonk Night Time Man" that is the last song he wrote. There is another set of final recordings here, too: five cuts from a live California show the band gave in August 1977, two months before the release of Street Survivors and before the plane crash that claimed the lives of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines . These are the last known recordings of the band, and while the audio is a little rough, the group sounds ferocious. Given the strength of these live cuts, it's once again hard not to wish that the band had not been struck down by tragedy, but this Rarities Edition honors Lynyrd Skynyrd's legacy by offering every aspect of their last year as a band, from the raw live shows to the overly polished original album.

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