Various Artists

This Is Southern Rock

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The three-disc This Is Southern Rock opens with a song that is probably everyone's definition of Southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd's epic "Free Bird," then follows it with a song that is probably no one's definition of Southern rock, .38 Special's "Hold on Loosely," illustrating that what seems obvious when looking at any musical genre is quite likely a red herring. Most folks could probably agree that classic Southern rock is geared to the electric guitar, and incorporates a ragged gumbo of blues, country, a touch of jazz, and maybe even a dash of gospel, all delivered with a rebel's bravado and a good dose of hard rock dynamics. Most folks could probably also agree that the Southern rock era began with the Allman Brothers Band in 1969 and for all practical purposes ended with the plane crash that took the life of Ronnie Van Zant and other members of Lynyrd Skynyrd on October 20, 1977. What this anthology shows, though, is just how much else is involved in the mix, from spooky Top 40 love ballads (Atlanta Rhythm Section's "Imaginary Lover"), the emergence of cartoon metal (Black Oak Arkansas' "Jim Dandy"), to laid-back California rock (the Marshall Tucker Band's "Heard It in a Love Song"), and even a bit of light fusion (Sea Level's "Tidal Wave"), all of which makes it a little more difficult to shoehorn Southern rock into any kind of tight definition. In the end the only inclusive solution is to claim any music made by a rock band from the South (but not Texas) in the 1970s is Southern rock, and hope that NASCAR agrees. Which brings up this expansive compilation, which does an adequate job of shining a bright light on the Southern rock phenomenon, except for one big, serious problem. There is not one cut by the Allman Brothers here (although there is the Hour Glass covering "South Bound"), which is akin to discussing Beatlemania and never mentioning the Beatles. The Allmans are the Big Bang band of Southern rock, and without them, it's all just rock & roll with flag decals and tattoos.

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