Well, this was a nice surprise! With Southern Rockers Outlaws having formed as long ago as 1967 and made their recording debut in 1975, I feared that the current incarnation of the band might be a glorified tribute act living on former glories. Not in the slightest! With leader Henry Paul (guitars and vocals) having joined in 1972 and Monte Yoho (one of two drummers) present since 1969, the current seven piece band remains as vital as ever.
With three (occasionally four) guitarists and two drummers the band carries on the tradition of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band respectively, with (to these ears) perhaps a little more in common with the former. Indeed, the hard rocking, but radio friendly opening song, ‘Southern Rock Will Never Die’, pays tribute in its chorus to fallen comrades from fellow Southern Rock outfits Skynyrd (Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines), the Marshall Tucker Band (Toy and Tommy Caldwell), the ABB (Duane and Gregg Allman, and Berry Oakley), the Charlie Daniels Band (‘Taz’ DiGregorio and Tommy ‘TC’ Crain) and Outlaws co-founders Billy Jones, Frank O’Keefe and Hughie Thomasson.
Outlaws’ own history is further honoured by a re-recording of ‘Heavenly Blues’, which first featured on the ‘Hurry Sundown’ album in 1977; that album completes a trilogy of the band at its peak which started with the band’s eponymous debut in 1975 and continued a year later with ‘Lady In Waiting’.
The title track, ‘Dixie Highway’, refers to the first vital thoroughfare between the Midwest and the South; it connected Chicago to Miami, before being replaced by the US Highway system in the late 1920’s. The fragments of the original road, which still exist in Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Tennessee, are still viewed as an enduring symbol of American discovery, fortitude and pride. The band pays tribute with some suitably Skynyrd-like guitars.
‘Overnight from Athens’ refers to the Georgia town, which looms large in the band’s history and benefits from a more Country feel in the introduction. Like ‘Endless Ride’ and ‘Dark Horse Run’, it provides co-writing credits for Henry Paul and his fellow guitarists: guest Billy Crain spent five years as an Outlaw until 2013, when Steve Grisham re-joined for his second stint, while Dale Oliver is the new kid on the block, having signed up as recently as 2018.
‘Dark Horse Run’ has a smoother vocal sound (slight hints of The Eagles perhaps), with the guitar solos interspersed with some fine organ work from Dave Robbins (who first joined the band in 2005, as did bassist Randy Threet) and some fine drumming from Yoho and Jaran Sorenson.
The album continues through the rocking ‘Rattlesnake Road’ and the instrumental ‘Showdown’ to ‘Windy City’s Blue’, a recently discovered and previously unrecorded 1972 demo written by the band’s original bassist Frank O’Keefe. The closing ‘Macon Memories’ evokes the ABB, of course, as well as other bands for whom the town featured prominently, including Wet Willie, the Charlie Daniels Band and the Marshall Tucker Band.
This is a splendidly consistent album which rewards repeated listening; unreservedly recommended. If only the band’s UK profile was greater, perhaps a promoter might arrange a tour; in the meantime I will be buying their back catalogue of CD’s!
Southern Rock Will Never Die; Heavenly Blues; Dixie Highway; Overnight From Athens; Endless Ride; Dark Horse Run; Rattlesnake Road; Lonesome Boy From Dixie; Showdown; Windy City’s Blue; Macon Memories.