Blackfoot

Highway Song Live (Wounded Bird Records 82, '02) Rating: A-
The most hard rock of the "Southern rock" bands that also includes the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws, and Molly Hatchet, among others, Blackfoot were a band to be reckoned with, especially in their late '70s to early '80s prime. Hot off the heels of the band's most notable studio albums (Strikes, Tomcattin', Marauder), Highway Song Live captures a smokin' U.K. live performance when the band were at the top of their game. Sure, it's a bit on the short side for a live album at 46 minutes, the band's boogie-based music can be a bit generic, and their lyrics aren't exactly deep (but that's not the point, either). However, the band's earnest performances and the tremendous overall energy, both from the band themselves and the enthusiastic crowd, makes this a highly enjoyable album despite its flaws. Comprised of singer-guitarist Rickey Medlocke (whose hoarse, manly growl reminds me of Bob Seger), guitarist Charlie Hargrett (rather than play rhythm, he and Medlocke definitely deliver a "twin guitar attack"), bassist Greg T. Walker (like Medlocke an early member of Lynyrd Skynyrd), and drummer Jackson Spires (aptly nicknamed "Thunderfoot"), Blackfoot was one together unit of seasoned road warriors, and the raw passion of these performances arguably makes this the quintessential Blackfoot album, much like how Bring It Back Alive had done the same for The Outlaws. Had it actually been released in the U.S. in 1982 rather than 20 years later perhaps it would have more of a reputation than it does, and maybe the band would've had more success as a result (subsequent more pop oriented efforts were less successful and the band membership turnover over the years has reached absurd proportions). Regardless, we have this album now documenting the band's classic lineup in their best element, and it's a corker, highlighted by the blistering "Good Morning," the anthemic sing along "Fly Away," and the galloping "Train, Train," written by grandfather Shorty Medlocke and one of several songs here on which the crowd is an active participant. Of course, THE highlight is "Highway Song," the 9-minute long grand finale which towers over every song here. Simply put, this song is their "Free Bird" (Medlocke even reprises their "what song do you want to hear?" intro), "Green Grass and High Tides," "Fall Of The Peacemakers," etc., and it holds its own with any of the aforementioned epics, whether during its soulful ballad verses, its singable chorus, or its extended guitar jams. Anyway, it's a shame that bands as good as Blackfoot have become all but forgotten by commercial radio (heck even Hall Of Fame bands like The Byrds and The Rascals have been largely squeezed out by ever-shrinking playlists), but if you like butt kicking, guitar-based music, this album delivers the goods, simple as that. Note: Interestingly, 3/4 of the band are of Indian descent, hence the band name Blackfoot. Note #2: Coming full circle, since the mid-'90s Medlocke has been a member of the reformed Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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