Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Outlaws - Dixie Highway (2020)



Country: USA
Style: Southern Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 28 Feb 2020
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The opening track on this new Outlaws album has a deceptively routine title, Southern Rock Will Never Die, and we might be forgiven for taking it as just another catchphrase. The South Will Rise Again, right? Well, it's far deeper than that. It's a salute to so many lost legends of the genre that we can't fail to realise just how much time has passed. It namechecks multiples not only from Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Allman Brothers and the Charlie Daniels Band but also from the Outlaws, who were founded as far back as 1967. And you thought Wishbone Ash had been around for a long time!

With the founding members ether no longer with us or just not taking part in the band's activities nowadays, it's a couple of early members who have kept the Outlaws name alive into the 21st century, doing their part as it were to ensure that southern rock will never die.

Monte Yoho joined in 1969 as the band's second drummer, though his time with the band has included gaps. It would be misleading to point out that Henry Paul was just the seventh guitarist to join the band, given that there have generally been either three or four in place at any one time. They're known as the Florida Guitar Army for a reason. Anyway, he came onboard in 1972 and everyone else, with the exception of Steve Grisham, who had a brief stint in the band in the mid-eighties, are additions for the new millennium.

There's almost an hour of music here, which is welcome given that the band's hardly prolific nowadays. It's been eight years since the last Outlaws album and eighteen since the one before that, if we ignore an unreleased effort in 2007 and the 2000 release credited to Hughie Thomasson rather than the band.

Naturally it includes a whole heck of a lot of guitar workouts, because the primary reason they've kept a fanbase alive for over half century is those extended guitar jams that, in concert, can stretch on out to the end of the world. All eleven tracks include the sort of guitarwork fans are aching for, but to greater or lesser degrees because the songs break down roughly to an element of nostalgia, country rock songs, traditional southern rockers and, well, songs that are primarily there to just let loose with the guitars.

The nostalgia songs are primarily the bookends, Southern Rock Will Never Die and Macon Memories, with Over Night from Athens there too. The latter falls into the country rock category too, as does Heavenly Blues which reminds in some ways of Townes van Zandt. The good old southern rockers are Rattlesnake Road and Windy City's Blue with Dark Horse Run a more sedate companion right up until it ratchets up a notch towards the end. Every one of these songs is capable, though some are clearly better than others and none of them has any lyrical originality. The writing is good, don't get me wrong, but, if you've heard any southern rock album, you've heard lyrics like these.

That leaves the guitar workouts and they're glorious. The band teases us on the opening pair of songs, Southern Rock Will Never Die and Heavenly Blues, because both contain blissful guitar interplay which ends much quicker than we expect. Then there's the title track, which may be lyrically clichéd but dedicates much of its running time just allowing Paul, Grisham and new fish Dale Oliver to cut loose on guitar. Two songs on and Endless Ride plans the same approach, after a Bob Seger-esque warmup. Finally, there's Showdown, a three minute instrumental that strips this approach down to its essentials.

I remember a Kerrang! critic back in the late eighties being stunned at how the Allman Brothers absolutely blistered on stage, given that they ought to have become old fogeys even back then. That memory came to mind during track one here because the Outlaws are over half a century old but they're quite ready to blister. Sure, there's nothing here the sheer length of Green Grass and High Tides but Dixie Highway and Endless Ride could easily get there on the road. And suddenly, I want to experience a half hour live version of either of those songs.

This is mandatory for any Outlaws fan, highly recommended for anyone with a taste for southern rock and recommended for anyone new to the genre who may want to dip their toes into it. Some of this is a little safer than it ought to be, but, for the most part, the band only show their age through a level of experience that takes time to manifest. Just let the lyrics wash over you because they're just as weak as the state postcard cover art, so that you're able to focus on the magnificent guitar interplay. Nobody does that like the Outlaws.

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