It’s now been twenty-five years since Johnny Van Zant stepped up to the mic to front southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd, and with only guitarist Gary Rossington now the only remaining original member it seems that comparisons to those classic 70s albums would appear to be a little redundant. The truth is that the Lynyrd Skynyrd name has become bigger than any individual band member and is now more an adjective than just a band name; a way of life, if you will.
The band’s previous studio album – 2009’s “God & Guns” – was a stunning reaffirmation of everything the band – classic and modern line-ups – stood for, an album that stood proudly in the now but with one eye looking back in acknowledgment. Since then the band has lost two other members in original keyboard player Billy Powell and bassist Ean Evans and really could have ended things there, with a strong album under their belt and a legacy of good-time rock n’ roll to look back on, but in true Skynyrd fashion they soldiered on, recruited new members and have come back with “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”, their thirteenth studio album.
Although not radically different from “God & Guns” there are a few subtle tweaks here and there that mark it out as a different beast, namely in the confidence of the playing. Not that the band have ever been slack as musicians but there’s almost a feel of comfort – and that isn’t a negative comment – in the songs that make them flow a little easier. The harder edge that “God & Guns” had seems more smoothed out, allowing the band’s more melodic tendencies more room to breathe and make the songs sound bigger than what they probably are.
And the songs themselves stand up as a damn fine collection that ranges from the slide guitar boogie of the title track through the thumping hard rock of ‘Homegrown’, one of a couple of songs about those southern belles, and onto the southern fried ballad ‘Start Livin’ Life Again’, with all bases covered in between. ‘One Day at a Time’ struts along on a classic 70s Skynyrd vibe with Johnny Van Zant’s vocal hook of ‘Smell the roses, taste the wine’ proving particularly memorable, and the same can be said of the choruses for most of the songs here. Piano-led ballad ‘Ready to Fly’ – a heartfelt tribute to those who have been lost along the way – exemplifies the anthemic quality that permeates the album with a chorus ready-made for those arena gigs.
Overall, “Last of a Dyin’ Breed” is an excellent album that carries on the legacy that the name Lynyrd Skynyrd implies. It isn’t as instant as “God & Guns”, preferring to reveal it’s intricacies over several listenings, but once you’re on board with it it’s a rewarding listen that’ll throw out a new favourite song every time, although generic tracks like ‘Good Teacher’ aren’t likely to change anybody’s world. Luckily the filler tracks like that are kept to a minimum. Mention must also go to Johnny Van Zant, who seems to be more up-front and all over this album in a way that he hasn’t really been before; maybe it’s something to do with that overall sense of comfort and confidence, but there’s definitely a case for “Last of a Dyin’ Breed” being seen as the definitive latter-day Lynyrd Skynyrd album.