by: .38 Special

In their first album in six years, .38 Special comes back with a brace of tunes that recasts the band in contemporary terms. With the core of the group now sweated down to singer Donnie Van Zant, guitarists Don Barnes (back in the lineup for the first time since 1988) and Danny Chauncey and bassist Larry "L.J." Junstrom, the time off between recordings has served the band well. The writing became the thing during the down period and the level of quality songwriting -- with much co-written by longtime hit song collaborator Jim Peterik ("Vehicle" by the Ides of March) -- takes the band into some new terrain, along with stellar production from Joe Hardy. The first single from the album, "Fade to Blue," is solid pop-rock with a catchy mandolin riff, and tracks like "Changed By Love," "Miracle Man" and the atmospheric acoustic ballad "Saving Grace" and "Homeless Guitar" knock several decibels off their old Southern-boy approach. But the guitars get cranked back to '80s-approved levels for "Shatter the Silence," "Deja Voodoo," "After the Fire Is Gone," and the bluesy shuffle "She Loves to Talk," proving that the band can regurgitate their old Southern rock sound while simultaneously finding new avenues of expression. Proof that an '80s band can still make accessible music at the end of the '90s. ~ Cub Koda

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