Live At The Savoy, New York, October 27, 1981
Phoenix Gems Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/13/2000
By the admission in the liner notes, Atlanta Rhythm Section was never comfortable being a live band. Unlike many other bands in the Southern Rock genre who lived for the road, Ronnie Hammond and crew seemed happiest when they were refining their sound in the studio. Then again, Atlanta Rhythm Section wasn't your typical Southern Rock group; the band - which included former members of Roy Orbison's band and Classics IV - crafted songs that were almost AOR-smooth.
Live At The Savoy, New York, October 27, 1981 captures the band as their star was tumbling from the sky. They had just charted what was to be their final top 40 hit, "Alien," about two weeks prior.The group had just completed a label switch (as well as a lawsuit between their former and then-current label), though the band would call it a day (at least for the time being) in less than two years. Worse yet, the whole genre was nowhere near as popular as it had been during the '70s. And the ghost of Lynyrd Skynyrd still hovered over the scene, four years after the fatal plane crash. (Hammond invokes the spirit of Ronnie Van Zant before they kick into "Large Time".)
Put this together, and you get... well, not quite a smashing success, but the 10-song set is hardly a failure. The problem with Live At The Savoy is that the energy goes through more hills and valleys than your typical rollercoaster. You know things aren't quite right when the band can't build up a good level of excitement on the opening track "Champagne Jam". That being said, the group does get both the crowd and the listener into the show with the very next track, "I'm Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight".
The best moments on Live At The Savoy come on the songs they're probably best known for - namely, "Imaginary Lover," "So Into You" and "Spooky," the third being a cover of the Classics IV hit. (Keyboardist/vocalist Dean Daughtry, guitarist/vocalist J.R. Cobb and producer/manager Buddy Buie had all been members of that band, so Atlanta Rhythm Section has more of an inherent right to cover the song than some bands have doing cover versions.) One minor complaint, though - I would have preferred to have heard "Imaginary Lover" not segue into "So Into You". It's so rare that any of these tracks are heard today; why didn't they let these songs stand on their own?
The remainder of Live At The Savoy, regrettably, is hit-and-miss - and often, it's only through repeat listens that the songs show any magic. Tracks like "Homesick" and "Alien" don't really click until about the fifth or sixth listen, and even then, it's not the kind of "oh-wow" moment people experienced with songs like "So Into You". The remaining tracks - "Higher," "Large Time" and "Long Tall Sally" - just failed to click with me. Too bad, especially seeing that Hammond tried to work up the crowd for "Large Time".
Atlanta Rhythm Section still occasionally works the oldies circuit, but their glory days are long behind them. Live At The Savoy has a few moments which will remind people why these guys were stars in the late '70s, but it probably won't create a renaissance of interest in the group.