Let It Rock: The Best of the Georgia Satellites
Isn’t it odd how tiny differences in performance make such a huge difference in perception? I find Lynyrd Skynyrd’s brand of Southern rock mostly irritating, but the Georgia Satellites even less artful version of the same style downright charming. Perhaps it’s the art: Skynyrd often seem a little too intricate. But it’s probably the beat. The few Skynyrd tunes I enjoy slip in that shuffle beat (the rest are awfully stiff), but the Satellites always find a way to swing.
Most of the Satellites’ material was written by lead singer Dan Baird, and in addition to riding his powerful rhythm section of drummer Mauro Magellan (just listen to him crush that snare) and bassist Rick Price, he often finds a neat lyrical hook to go along with the tried-and-true country-rock melodies. The goofy “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” is the most famous, of course (“no huggy, no kissy, until I get a wedding ring”), but Baird turns out to be a thoughtful, evocative lyricist. Unlike a lot of tortured souls, he captures both sides of the bar glass: not only the miseries of lost love (the tragic swoop of organ underlining the majestic “All Over But the Cryin’” as he wails “it’s me going for that walk all alone”) but the gleeful epiphanies of new love (“she rolled up her skirt and I could see she was French!”). The resigned nonchalance of “Six Years Gone” (“might wind up dead / wake up in morning in a stranger’s bed / well, I'm not concerned with any of that no more”) is a perfect summary of his sanguine worldview.
To be sure, it can be hard to distinguish among the songs, most of which have that famous guitar shuffle underlying them, and the guitar work (by Baird and Rick Richards) can be charitably described as ramshackle (which can have some nice results, though, as in the ecstatic solo in “Nights of Mystery”). But this loose approach works wonders on some classic material, like the Beatles’ “Don’t Pass Me By” (the lyrics seem a lot deeper with this much energy pushing them) or “Hippy Hippy Shake”; and toward the end of their career, the Satellites were actually working on some new approaches. “All Over But the Cryin’” has a dramatic arpeggio-based arrangement, “Another Chance” sounds like a classic Ooh La La track, and their take on “Almost Saturday Night” provides some credible harmonies over a mandolin rhythm.
If you’re gonna throw the 12-bar blues around all night, you might as well have a little fun and keep the place hopping. The Georgia Satellites do that with good humor and energy, and that’s enough in my book to make for an enjoyable evening.
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