Bring It Back Alive (Arista ’78) Rating: A-
Though The Outlaws have long since been out of the limelight, in the '70s this appropriately dubbed “Florida Guitar Army” had some great moments, as their three pronged guitar attack, led by Hughie Thomason and Billy Jones (the two main singers as well), provided strong straight ahead rock n’ roll. Though a second tier band in the "Southern Rock" sweepstakes behind the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Outlaws provided some of the better songs within their chosen jam-oriented style, which was always best appreciated under the hot lights of a stage before a live audience. Don't get me wrong, the band released some good studio albums (the self-titled debut is their best one), but a studio weakness (trying to be The Eagles, basically) hurt them at times, and as such Bring It Back Alive is the quintessential Outlaws album. Live the band were far more apt to just unleash those guitars, and though this album may provide too much guitar overload for some people (only guitar freaks need apply), those with a high tolerance for such stuff (such as yours truly) will find much of this live album thrilling. It's not perfect, as the vocals are noticeably weaker than on the studio albums (and this band didn't have great lead singers to begin with, though their harmonies were distinctive), and some of these songs are rather average compositionally. Still, even the lesser songs are likely to pack some serious guitar heat at some point, and the highlights are exceptional. On the concise ("concise" meaning under 6-minutes long), catchy front, "There Goes Another Love Song," "Holiday," and "Hurry Sundown" are highlights, while "I Hope You Don't Mind" rocks especially hard. "Stick Around For Rock & Roll" is a stellar extended (9:25) epic with galloping grooves and plenty of lyrical lead playing and guitar harmonies. Just a great guitar track, that one, and of course the predictable highlight is the finale, "Green Grass and High Tides," fittingly dedicated to Lynyrd Skynyrd and here stretched out past 20 minutes. True, the band loses focus a bit at times, and the vocals are much better on the studio version (which is still almost 10 minutes long itself), but man is this version great too. Generally speaking, more guitars equals better where The Outlaws are concerned, and this version turns up the guitar heat several more notches, providing a scintillating climax to what I consider to be a classic live album. They may never have received much respect from the critics (then again neither did Zeppelin at first), but there’s plenty of room in my record collection for the extended guitar epiphanies of this once formidable Florida Guitar Army.