Wild-eyed Southern Boys
A&M Records, 1981
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/11/2001
In 1980, the fates were beginning to smile upon Donnie Van Zant and .38 Special. Their third album, Rockin' Into The Night, had brought them their first hit in the form of the title track. If they thought that life was starting to get good, then their follow-up, Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, would blow the doors off for them.
Looking back at it today, this record is notable for three songs, not the least of which is "Hold On Loosely". There's a reason this track became a hit for the band, and that this song sounds as good today as it did 21 years ago. It was well-written and well-performed - and these are the things which can help a song transcend time.
Long-time followers of the band will also recognize two other hits in the form of "Fantasy Girl" and the title track, both of which are just as enjoyable as the hit single. Van Zant and guitarist/vocalist Don Barnes work some absolute magic on these tracks, making sure they would have lasting power far beyond someone's car stereo or their home component system. If there's any doubt to their power, compare these versions to the ones on Live At Sturgis, and try to pick which versions are more powerful. You can't do it... more signs of a damn good song.
Of course, Wild-Eyed Southern Boys is more than just these three songs - and while the bulk of the material on this album is superb, there are occasional signs of filler. Tracks like "First Time Around," "Back Alley Sally" and "Hittin' And Runnin'" are all killer material, making me wonder why they weren't considered as having singles potential.
But there are one or two weaker moments on this disc - not that the songs are bad, but that they don't live up to the higher standards the majority of the album set. Songs like "Honky Tonk Dancer" and "Bring It On" (the latter having little to do with the Lynyrd Skynyrd song on their album Twenty) have their moments, but they just don't deliver the payload like you would expect them to. As a result, they end up falling a bit flat.
Of course, .38 Special was still developing as a band, and were just getting used to the tastes of success. Wild-Eyed Southern Boys made sure they got a big drink from that well - and it rightfully deserved all the success it earned. Last time I checked All-Music Guide, this is the earliest of .38 Special's albums that are still in print - and it's most definitely worth searching out.