38 Special – Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (1981)

38Special_WildEyed3.5 out of 5 Stars!

I could never deny that, though it wasn’t one of my “regularly played” bands, 38 Special did indeed have something “special” when it came to its overall approach.

Not quite Southern Rock, not quite Hard Rock, not quite AOR, this band from Jacksonville, Florida somehow managed to successfully merge these genres into its music with fairly equal doses, generally making for some catchy material.

And with the legendary Jim Peterick (Survivor/Ides of March/Pride of Lions) co-writing some of the band’s biggest hits and most memorable tracks, 38 Special usually came off to me as a “southernized” version of Survivor.

Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, the band’s fourth release, is a perfect example of this “genre-merging.” With the classic hit singles “Hold On Loosely” and “Fantasy Girl” included, as well as other radio-friendly and occasionally countrified Hard Rock ditties such as “Back Alley Sally,” “Throw Out the Line,” “First Time Around,” “Hittin’ and Runnin’,” and the Sweet-Home-Alabama-like “Honky Tonk Dancer” occupying space within the platter’s grooves, this is the album I usually found the most enjoyable from the early days of the group’s existence.

As mentioned previously, 38 Special wasn’t a band I listened to on a consistent basis through the years, but when I’m in the mood for some catchy and lighter material of an upbeat nature, Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (as well as several other platters from the band’s catalogue) will occasionally suffice.

Get The Album Now!

Thin Lizzy – Johnny the Fox (1976)

ThinLizzy_JohnnyFox4 out of 5 Stars!

Although perhaps not as memorable as Jailbreak, the band’s breakthrough—from jail or otherwise—album released earlier the same year, Johnny the Fox also contained a cohesive feel, with enough enjoyable tracks and tasty riffs to make it a worthy follow-up collection, thus solidifying the band’s growing reputation as being a consistent and creative Hard Rock act.

And let’s face it, other than Phil Lynott’s often-intriguing songwriting, when it comes to a Thin Lizzy album, it’s truly all about the band’s twin guitar sound that makes or breaks each release, correct? Indeed, the lightning-quick guitar interplay between Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, the melodic and memorable riffs, the sheer and impressive teamwork shown on ballsy tracks such as “Massacre,” “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed,” “Boogie Woogie Dance,” “Johnny,” and the exquisite classic “Don’t Believe a Word,” along with the lighter moments on several of Lynott’s finest ballads and mid-tempo tunes “Sweet Marie,” “Borderline,” and “Old Flame,” are the highlights of this album, thus guaranteeing its replay value.

In general, although lacking that guaranteed knockout musical punch of containing multiple hit singles in a single collection like the Jailbreak album, Johnny the Fox still proved a solid effort, a diverse selection of well-written and well-performed songs from a band finally achieving deserved and long-desired recognition in America.

Get The Album Now!

Black Star Riders – All Hell Breaks Loose (2013)

BlackStarRiders_AllHell4 out of 5 Stars!

I’m certain that, like me, many long-time fans of Thin Lizzy found it difficult to accept the band’s announcement way back in 1983 that it was breaking up. I mean, seriously, the group had just released the excellent Thunder and Lightning album, which featured John Sykes on guitar, and everything seemed rosy for the band’s bright future, therefore the decision came as a shock to many. And then, horror of all horrors, any hopes for a possible future reunion vanished when news came several years later of the untimely passing of leader Phil Lynott. Tragic, and a cruel blow to the musical world!

So imagine my thrill (and no short amount of skepticism) to learn in 2012 that, after many years of reading about numerous short-lived reunions by various former band members, a permanent lineup under the driving force and guidance of guitarist Scott Gorham would actually be recording new material. Finally! The band, however, would be using the name Black Star Riders, which made sense, I suppose, simply since Gorham was the only Thin Lizzy member during its actual existence, and with all that fresh blood in the form of guitarist Damon Johnson (Witness/Brother Cane), bassist Marco Mendoza (Whitesnake), drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (Y&T/Megadeth), and vocalist Ricky Warwick (The Almighty), the Thin Lizzy moniker didn’t seem quite appropriate.

But in truth, after hearing the debut album, I came to the conclusion that had the group used the name Thin Lizzy, it wouldn’t have been such a terrible idea. Indeed, the lineup sounded almost exactly like the former band, certainly more so than other groups that attempt to replace a recognizable lead vocalist. I mean, remember the mental adjustment required when Deep Purple replaced Ian Gillan with David Coverdale, or when Marillion replaced Fish with Steve Hogarth? In these examples, we’re talking about singers that possessed completely different tones, ranges, and styles of delivery from the previous vocalists.

But in this case, not only did Ricky Warwick sing eerily similar to Phil Lynott, but the guitarists recreated the same twin-guitar sound of old, and much of the material presented on All Hell Breaks Loose could have appeared on Thin Lizzy albums.

The opening title track, for example, sent chills of delight down my spine since I could easily imagine it being played by the original Thin Lizzy, sung by Phil Lynott. Then “Bound for Glory,” with its dual-guitar harmonies and upbeat rhythm, provided even more tingles of excitement since it seemed almost an outtake from an album such as Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox, or Renegade. And by the time the Irish-inspired intro to “Kingdom of the Lost” led into the song’s first verse, I’d heard enough to realize that the members of Black Star Riders couldn’t have concocted a better homage to the former band and its deceased leader.

Other tracks such as “Hey Judas,” “Before the War,” “Hoodoo Voodoo,” “Blues Ain’t So Bad,” and “Valley of the Stones,” offered even more obvious tributes to the memory of Lynott, and better still, the album as a whole seemed a worthy follow-up to ’83’s Thunder and Lightning. The musicians perform with enough gusto and vigor to satisfy the yearnings of Thin Lizzy fans who still missed the original group, and with the production full and rich, the guitars sizzling and pushed to the forefront, it seemed as if the original band (or at least its rapacious spirit) had been transported into the modern age to not only appease the hungry fans of yore, but to gain a new generation of followers.

Thankfully, unlike the previous Thin Lizzy reunions that disbanded before releasing new material, Black Star Riders doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Not only did the band release an enjoyable second platter in 2015, but a third dropped early in ’17, giving hope the group will be sticking around for a long, long time.

Get The Album Now!