This may be the greatest unissued first album ever to surface from a major band. The story behind the 78 minutes of music on this CD, cut two years before Lynyrd Skynyrd's official debut album, could fill a chapter of a book. Cut primarily during late June and late July of 1971, with a quintet of 1972-vintage tracks added, they constitute Skynyrd's complete studio recordings from the period when they were still trying to get signed and were playing lots of small-time local gigs for barely enough money to live on. Seven of the songs were released on the 1978 album Skynyrd's First and...Last, and three others appear on the 1991 box set, while "Comin' Home" turned up on The Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd earlier that same year, but this is the first time this potent body of work has been assembled properly, in one place. And, additionally, one previously unissued track by itself justifies the price of this disc -- the original demo version of "Free Bird," on which the soaring harmonies, Billy Powell's beautiful piano, and the Collins-Rossington guitar duo plays with startling fire and lyricism. Several of the tracks do contain overdubs laid on in the mid-'70s (mostly Ed King's bass and some guitar, and even a Mellotron on "White Dove" -- it would be great to hear that song without the electronic string section), but this is still the band at its most raw and unaffected, in terms of what the core members are playing. Ronnie Van Zant's singing was not only powerful, but beautiful at this stage of his career, and the group's playing -- especially the Rossington-Collins double lead guitar attack -- is filled with a fresh spirit of experimentation and adventure that makes these tracks essential listening for anyone who has ever enjoyed this band's work. Evidently, the material and related demos scared the crap out of most record company executives when they were shown around in 1971-1972, and it's easy to see why -- the sound is fierce, the songs not only boldly played but boldly written as well (even the Rick Medlocke-written and sung "The Seasons" is a killer piece of semi-acoustic country-rock), and running anywhere from five to ten minutes apiece. Anyway, most record company executives being inherent cowardly, or stupid, or both, it's easy to see them running from the room over these sounds. Anyone who owns any of Lynyrd Skynyrd's releases should add this magnificent lost chapter in the group's history.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder