Monday, February 25, 2008

Album project: The Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band, Idlewild South (1970): The Allman Brothers Band debuted their remarkable blend of rock, jazz, and blues with their self-titled LP released in 1969, containing the classics "Dreams" and "Whipping Post". Duane Allman was already being celebrated as one of the greatest guitarists rock ever produced, a reputation cemented when he teamed up with Eric Clapton on the classic Layla And Other Love Songs, an electric guitar lover's dream. Little brother Gregg was one of the most soulful singers around. Dickey Betts was a solid counterpoint to Duane on guitar, while the lineup was rounded out by Berry Oakley's inventive bass runs and the intricate rhythms created by twin drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson.

Idlewild South, named after the farm outside of Macon, Ga. that the band members lived on, tightened up the band's approach by staying closer to rock than blues. The band was already a must-see live attraction, and radio-friendly tracks like "Revival" and "Midnight Rider" broadened their appeal. The jazzy "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed" quickly became a live favorite. Hidden gems include "Don't Keep Me Wonderin' " and "Please Call Home", both featuring strong Gregg Allman vocal performances, and their version of "Hoochie Coochie Man", showcasing Berry Oakley on vocals and a driving bass intro.

The Allman Brothers Band, At Fillmore East (1971): The essential document. The Allman Brothers had become favorites of promoter Bill Graham, and played the legendary Fillmore East several times during its existence. Recorded on March 12 and 13, 1971, At Fillmore East captures the Allman Brothers Band at their peak, and is generally regarded as one of the greatest live rock albums of all time.

The LP comprises only seven tracks over 76 minutes of music, yet maintins its intensity from the first note of "Statesboro Blues" to the finale of "Whipping Post". "Statesboro Blues" shows off Duane Allman's stinging slide guitar work. The blues standard "Stormy Monday" features Gregg Allman's soulful vocals and fine instrumental moments from both Allmans and Dickey Betts. "You Don't Love Me" is another blues standard extended into a 19-minute jam. The group rocks out on the instrumental "Hot 'Lanta". "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed", now a centerpiece of their live show, takes on a jazz/Latin feel and showcases the Allmans at their most virtuosic. The final track, "Whipping Post", becomes a 23-minute tour de force. Opening with Berry Oakley's steamroller bass, the song features Gregg's singing at its most intense. Duane Allman and Betts trade leads around Gregg's organ riffs, while Butch Trucks' and Jaimoe Johanson's drumming evoke the fury of the song's title.

Vintage footage of "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed" captures the Allman Brothers at the height of their glory.

The Allman Brothers played the Fillmore East's last shows in June 1971. Of that final show, Gregg Allman said that the band was so concentrated on their playing that they lost all track of time, and didn't realize that the next morning had dawned until the side doors were opened, letting the sunlight in. The glory days would be short-lived, though. On October 29, 1971, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon, followed a year later by Berry Oakley's death in another motorcycle wreck only three blocks from where Duane lost his life.

The Allman Brothers Band, The Road Goes On Forever (1975); The Millennium Collection (2000): If you're a fan of songs as opposed to jams, these compilations will likely suffice. The Road Goes On Forever covers the Allmans' classic period, featuring the three albums mentioned above plus their most commercially successful recordings, Eat A Peach and Brothers And Sisters. The former is notable for "One Way Out" and "Ain't Wastin' Time No More", while Brothers And Sisters has a more countryish feel, the result of Dickey Betts assuming the main instrumental role in the band and pianist Chuck Leavell coming in as a counterpoint to Betts. That album features the Allman Brothers' best-known moments, the instrumental "Jessica" and their biggest hit, "Ramblin' Man", perhaps the greatest road song of all time. The Millennium Collection strips the band's legacy down to eleven key tracks, adding "Crazy Love" from their forgettable reincarnation in the late 70's.

The Allmans got together again in the late 80's, featuring virtuoso guitarist Warren Haynes (who also leads his own band, Government Mule) alongside Betts. More recently, they added Derek Trucks, Butch's nephew, on guitar. The younger Trucks is widely regarded as one of the best guitarists of his generation. This version of the Allman Brothers Band has recorded solid discs such as Seven Turns, Where It All Begins, and Hittin' The Note, winning over a new generation of fans and coming to be regarded as founding fathers of the jam-band movement.

(Edited 9/28/09.)