Edge Of Forever
CMC International Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/16/1999
I'm kind of at a crossroads with Lynyrd Skynyrd. On one hand, I've had the privilege of listening to some classic music from one of Southern rock's leading groups, and the work of the Ronnie Van Zant-era Skynyrd will always live in my mind. Songs like "Freebird," "Sweet Home Alabama" and "What's Your Name," while overplayed by classic rock radio, still have the power to have me singing them full volume wherever I am. (This nearly got me excommunicated from the church, but that's another story - when the lawyers say I can talk about it.)
On the other hand, the band is now thriving under Johnny Van Zant, as evidenced by the group's latest release Edge Of Forever. Having had the good fortune to have seen them live last year (though I regrettably missed the meet-and-greet - note to self: always check to see when it's being held), I know that the band has gone through the struggles as if they were a new band who had to prove themselves - and of late, they've been holding court with some great material.
But while Edge Of Forever is an incredible album, it does leave me at that impasse. More and more, I hear the balance of power shifting from original members like guitarist Gary Rossington and keyboardist Billy Powell, and shifting toward guitarist Rickey Medlocke (yes, I know he was an original member way back when) and Johnny Van Zant. Should I feel sad that, in some ways, the classic Skynyrd sound and groove is being left behind, or should I celebrate that the band refuses to follow in the dangerous path of becoming mimics of themselves?
I guess the old saying, "The proof is in the pudding," is true, 'cause Lynyrd Skynyrd serves up 12 dishes' worth that are sure to have you licking your lips. Johnny Van Zant has been gradually taking over the place of his late brother in Lynyrd Skynyrd, almost to the point where one wouldn't stand there and compare his work to his brother's. (The band's last two albums, Twenty and the live Lyve From Steel Town, serve as ample proof of that.) The comparisons are really unfair now - I mean, Johnny Van Zant's been the frontman of the band for 12 years already.
But on Edge Of Forever, there is no doubt that Johnny Van Zant is in the house, and he is leading the band into the 21st Century. Tracks like "Workin'", "Preacher Man" and "Gone Fishin'" all testify to this. While there is more of a rock than a country-blues feel to these songs, you can't help but enjoy these tracks when you listen to them - even if you've followed the band since the early days. This is not a bastardization or homogenization of the Skynyrd sound, as the diehards might think - though it is a change (albeit one that's been building over the years) that takes a few minutes to grow accustomed to.
Edge Of Forever does show that Lynyrd Skynyrd still knows how to keep even a ballad razor sharp. The two on this disc, "Tomorrow's Goodbye" and "Rough Around The Edges," are beautiful and interesting; chances are you'll find yourself going back to at least one of these tracks regularly.
While it took me one listen to the album to get used to a more rock-oriented approach, I have to keep in mind that if Lynyrd Skynyrd were to keep trying to re-create the magic of an album like Street Survivors, I'd be harping on them to let go of the past. If anything, Edge Of Forever embraces the bare minimum of the past to remind you who you're listening to while kicking new life into the group's sound. (There are some familiar licks taken from other playbooks, though... listen to "FLA" and try not to think about Travis Tritt.)
Edge Of Forever is proof that Lynyrd Skynyrd not only still have some fight in them, but that they carry enough of a punch to create killer music even after over 25 years together. This album rightfully belongs next to the classic work of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and could well be the best album of the Johnny Van Zant era.