The Allman Brothers’ self-titled debut album in 1969 was a strong effort. Their sophomore effort, Idlewild South (1970) was tighter, more accessible, and ultimately better. The band moved in a radio-friendly direction as the songs tended to be more melodic, with its combination of jazz, rock, blues, and even a little gospel.
One of the major changes was the addition of Tom Dowd as the producer. Dowd was one of the best producers in rock history and his work with The Allman Brothers would produce three of the legendary albums of the 1970s. He was also responsible for introducing Duane Allman to Eric Clapton for his Derek and The Dominoes project.
The second change was the emergence of Dickey Betts as a songwriter, which would be so important for the band’s future success. His “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” would become an important part of the group’s stage act for decades.
The only negative was the relative shortness of the album, which clocked in at just less than 31 minutes. While it was a consistently excellent release, it was the opposite of its stage show where the songs were elongated through improvisation.
The first track, “Revival,” sets the tone for what would follow. It is a melodic fusion of rock and blues with a vocal that moves the track toward a gospel sound.
Two of the band’s eternal songs made their debuts. “Midnight Rider” was a haunting tune with one of the most soulful vocals of Gregg Allman’s career. He would issue the song as a successful Top 20 single during 1973. The aforementioned “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” is just about the perfect instrumental. It has a jazzy feel and features some of the best playing of Dickey Betts’ career. When you add the additional guitar of Duane Allman, you quickly realize it does not get much better than this.
The only cover song was Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Originally released during 1954 by Muddy Waters, it was honored by The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as one of The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll. The foundation is provided by the thunderous dual drumming of Jai Johnny Johnson and Butch Trucks. Duane then adds his guitar parts, creating one of the better covers of this Hall Of Fame blues classic.
Possibly the best track was “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin,’” with Duane providing the slide guitar. He and Betts were one of the better guitar duos to ever record and perform together in the same band, and this song demonstrates why.
Idlewild South was The Allman Brothers’ commercial breakthrough. The band’s live performances quickly became some of the best in rock history. Everything seemed to be going well until just about a year later (in 1971) when Duane Allman got on his motorcycle for a ride home.
This second album remains one of The Allman Brothers’ best studio releases.
Article first published as Music Review: The Allman Brothers – Idlewild South on Blogcritics.