18 October 2007

The Brothers Van Zant

The country duo Van Zant recently released a new record, My Kind of Country, and I'm lovin' every minute of it. Their previous record, Get Right with the Man (2005), has been one of my favorites of the past few years. I've listened to it as often and as consistently as anything else, and really have only grown to appreciate it more. Donnie and Johnny Van Zant are the brothers of the late Ronnie Van Zant, a founding member and lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd, who died in a plane crash in 1977. After Ronnie's death, Johnny took his place as vocalist for Skynyrd, and Donnie is the founder and vocalist of .38 Special. These are pretty good credentials for a couple of good ol' country boys. They come by their southern rock honestly, and they bring a good deal of experience with them to their recordings as Van Zant. As far as I have been able to tell, Get Right with the Man has also been one of those rare records that my Zach and DoRena both like about as well as I do. So, if we all three agree on something like this, who's to argue with it?

My Kind of Country doesn't start with quite the kick and punch that the previous record did, but it has legs and stamina. Maybe it would be fair to say that, overall, it is slightly more subdued and to that same extent more thoughtful and serious. These boys are family men, and Christians to boot, and they bring those values to bear upon their songs. They've also got some history in the rock 'n' roll industry, and it's clear they know how to have a good time. They do live with some regrets about their past, but they seem to be most interested in living their life now and into the future. Is it absurd to speak of southern-rock country as having wholesome values? These guys appear to manage it, in my opinion. They make great music; they write great songs; and they clearly enjoy what they're doing, which makes listening enjoyable.

I've probably listened through My Kind of Country a dozen times, or more, since I got it. I liked it from the first, but I like it better and better each time I hear it. There's genuine substance here, and equal parts good fun. "Goes Down Easy," the third track, is infectious. It's not my favorite song on the record, but it's often the one I find myself whistling and singing after I've gotten out of my car and gone about my errands or whatever. It may be a toss-up, for now, as to what my favorite song is (there aren't any on here that I don't care for), but the title track, "My Kind of Country," as well as "The Hardest Thing" and "Friend," would all be contenders.

I suspect that, when all is said and done, it'll be "That Scares Me" that remains my favorite here. I love the opening line and the musical pulse of this song. But the fact of the matter is that it cuts pretty close to home for me, as the singer contemplates the growing up of his children and "how sad my life without my wife would be." I'm beginning to suspect that the entire country music industry has it in for me, and I suppose for other fathers out there whose sons and daughters are graduating, going off to college, getting married, etc. This really isn't fair. My friend Karin would remind these songwriters of the Fifth Commandment, because some of these heart-wrenching, tear-jerking songs are coming close to killing me. Honestly, though, I love it. I find it helpful for someone to give me the words and the music to express my feelings out loud, and there's some temporal comfort in knowing that I'm obviously not the only one to feel this way. It's especially nice when guys who really know how to rock, how to sing, and how to play, also have a knack for picking songs that say what needs to be said, and then perform them well.

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