The Outlaws,
Legacy Live
(SPV Records, 2016)

The Outlaws formed in 1972, were the first band to be signed by Clive Davis to his brand new Arista Records back in the '70s and sold a bunch of albums. They had successfully broken out of the pack when the deaths of founding members Frank O'Keefe and Billy Jones, followed later by that of Hughie Thomasson, broke the band's momentum, and they wound up dissolving at the peak of their success and their maturity as a band.

The remaining members went their separate ways. Henry Paul, one of the band's leading figures, went on to form the Henry Paul Band and then the Blackhawks. Both bands were successful, so he was doing fine, but he says he always had the sense of work undone, of knowing there was fine music in the Outlaws that never got to come out. After a conversation with original drummer Monte Yoho, Paul put the band back together in 2008. In 2012, they released their first album in 12 years, the excellent It's About Pride. They have followed it up now with a two-album live set called Legacy Live because it reviews their entire 45-year career, containing songs from every aspect of their existence, as well as new material.

Although billed as a southern rock band, you have to remember that both Henry Paul and Hughie Thomasson were former Greenwich Village folkies, who were familiar with and influenced by the folk-rock of the Byrds, Poco, Buffalo Springfield and others. Where other southern rock bands had one lead singer, the Outlaws have always featured three- and four-part harmonies -- folk harmonies at that. That fact alone lifts their music out of a strict Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet bag and moves it toward a deeper originality. They do however have the two lead guitars and a rhythm guitar characterized by the genre. When all of these musicians, including the bass player, line up across the stage to play unisons and swap solos, it is a sight to behold and a joy to hear.

Although they've sold a bunch of records and their studio albums repay a careful listening, the Outlaws are primarily a live band. This set captures them at their best. The playing is crisp and sharp. The record is beautifully mixed, so that every instrument can be clearly heard -- nothing is lost in the mix and there's no muddle here. The song choices are fine -- every fan will hear his or her favorite song here as well as being introduced to a few new ones -- and the writing is equally fine. The harmonies sound like nothing you'll hear in rock, and the lead singing carries the tunes to your heart.

Henry Paul says that the goal of the Outlaws is authenticity and this record is authentically fine.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

31 December 2016

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