The Van Zant musical family tree has been so thoroughly sanctified by tragedy and time that objectively considering any new release from its members without viewing it through the shattered prism of the family's Southern gothic drama is difficult. That theory holds especially true for Van Zant, the second teaming of Johnny and Donnie Van Zant in a band atmosphere. On Van Zant II, the follow-up to 1998's successfulBrother to Brother, Johnny and Donnie utilize a few Deep South musical clichés to hammer home the ten tracks, but that observation comes with the caveat that some branch off the Van Zant main trunk is at least partially responsible for creating those clichés in the first place. Both Johnny and Donnie, in their roles with the refurbished Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special respectively, have shown an innate ability to marry the hard-driving, balls-out boogie pioneered by their older brother Ronnie in the original Skynyrd lineup with a polished and subtle pop sensibility that, given the proper execution, can light up sales charts and play lists alike.
Van Zant II certainly has moments of that greatness. The disc's opener, "Oklahoma," is a prime example of the family's pop-and-boogie expertise, wrapped around an homage to the survivor spirit of that state, while "Heart of an Angel" harks back to the pop balladeering that .38 Special perfected in the mid-'80s. "Is It for Real" is Van Zant's spirited message song, a flat-out jam-rocker packed with wicked melody and Velcro hooks, flashes of which can be found throughout the rest of Van Zant II but not with enough consistency to count this among the best that the family has had to offer. Still, credit the Van Zants for doing this album without help from any of their primary bandmates in order to keep the separate entities from bleeding into one another. Perhaps most important, Van Zant II shows that, should its members choose to devote the time and attention, the family still has the potential to live up to its stained-glass reputation.
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