Southern Comfort

The Jimmie Van Zant Band

J-Bird Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/27/2000

Both the specter of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the ghost of Ronnie Van Zant hover over Southern rock, over two decades after the legendary frontman lost his life in a plane crash.

That presence is felt in Ronnie Van Zant's cousin Jimmie, who has both the physical and vocal attributes to cause a few people to do a double-take. Southern Comfort, the debut effort from The Jimmie Van Zant Band, shows a group who is trying to set their own pace in the music while acknowledging the musical lineage that he carries on. And while it's tentative at times, there are moments where Van Zant suggests that he just might be here for the long run.

The album's opener, "Get Up," a song co-written with cousins Johnny and Donnie Van Zant (now fronting Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special, respectively), is the first suggestion that Van Zant's band has something special to it besides the famous name. While the sound of both the song and the album are minimalistic, this seems to work well for "Get Up," a song that allows itself to be driven more by its boogie shuffle rather than a triple-guitar attack. Likewise, "Bad Habits" demands to be taken on its own merit, though it takes more than one listen to truly appreciate this track.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If only the bulk of Southern Comfort walked with this kind of a swagger. "Ronnie's Song" tends to get bogged down in the weight of its own memories, though I would not think of questioning Van Zant's sincerity in his lyrics on this one. While it's not the best tribute song I've heard about Ronnie Van Zant, it is touching nonetheless. The same could be said of their take on the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic "Simple Man," a song which doesn't work quite as well with the smaller band as it does with an expanded lineup.

Other Van Zant originals don't quite carry the same punch that the lead-off tracks do, and Southern Comfort suffers as a result. It's not that songs like "Angel In The Night," "Here To Stay" or the title track are poor efforts, it's that they don't carry the same kind of power. But Van Zant is still a young songwriter, and while he might be born into a powerful musical lineage, it will still take some time for him to come into his own. Southern Comfort is a first step; it's not the end result.

The album's closer, "Party In The Parking Lot," is a good way to wrap things up. One part "I Know A Little"-type Skynyrd, one part Travis Tritt, it chases away the demons of sadness that permeate some of the tracks and, just as the album opens, gets people into a mood to celebrate.

Van Zant definitely has a tough image to live up to musically, and Southern Comfort might be unfairly cast into the same shadows as .38 Special and modern-day Lynyrd Skynyrd releases tend to be. But if he's given enough time and room to grow into his own musical style, what he comes up with might shock everyone. Until then, Southern Comfort isn't quite as smooth as a shot of whiskey, but it has enough of a kick to make you look for something more promising on Van Zant's horizon.

Rating: B-

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of J-Bird Records, and is used for informational purposes only.