Brothers Of The Road by The Allman Brothers

March 19, 2011

The Allman Brothers returned during 1981 with their third and last album by what can be considered their mid-career line-ups. It would also be their last studio album for nine years as the band would dissolve during 1982, with various members vowing never to play together again.

The big change was drummer Jai Johanson had been fired before the band entered the recording studio. It was the only studio album in the band’s history on which he did not play. Original members Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, and Butch Trucks remained as did recent members, bassist David Goldflies and guitarist Dan Toler. The new additions were David Toler as the second drummer and Mike Lawler as a second keyboardist, which made the group a seven man band.

Brothers Of The Road was recorded in an atmosphere of animosity and the quality of the music reflects that fact. The band also tried to modernize their sound as the songs are shorter with little of the improvisation that highlighted their best work. They also moved in a more rock direction, leaving their blues roots behind. Dickey Betts and Dan Toler were a very good guitar duo, but here there is little of the fire of their past efforts together. It all added up to an uninspired effort that ranks near the bottom of their catalogue.

Dickey Betts wrote or co-wrote five of the ten tracks but there is nothing that approaches his best work. The best of the lot was “Straight From The Heart,” which became a top forty single hit for the band, but even here it is Gregg Allman who makes the song better than average. It seems that Betts is just going through the motions with little passion.

Gregg Allman can’t save the album but he takes part in most of the highlights. His vocals on “Never Knew How Much (I Needed You),” “Maybe We Can Go Back To Yesterday,” and “Straight From The Heart” are worth a listen.

The band members would quickly go their separate ways. Allman and the Toler brothers would form the Gregg Allman Band and record and tour with moderate success. Betts, Trucks, Goldflies, and former member Chuck Leavell formed BHLT, which only lasted a couple of years. Dickey Betts would then go on to form his own band.

There would be better times to come for The Allman Brothers. Fan can be thankful that this was not their final album, as it would not have provided a fitting end for a great band. Brothers Of The Road is only for fans who want anything Allman.

Article first published as Music Review: The Allman Brothers – Brothers Of The Road on Blogcritics.


Enlightened Rogues by The Allman Brothers

March 17, 2011

The Allman Brothers reunited during late 1978 and entered the recording studio to produce their first studio album in four years.

The four original members, keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Allman, drummer Jaimoe, lead guitarist/vocalist Dickey Betts, and drummer Butch Trucks had resolved their differences, at least for a while. Bassist Lamar Williams and pianist Chuck Leavel, who had replaced original members Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, were not asked to return. In their place was guitarist Dan Toler and bassist David Goldflies. The addition of Toler meant that the band had returned to the two-guitar line-up of its classic years.

The other important addition, and a return to its early period, was producer Tom Dowd. He produced three of their classic albums and was instrumental in the development of the band’s sound.

What emerged was a very good, if not excellent album. If you want to experience some good music by The Allman Brothers, but are not in the mood for their longer, drawn-out, improvisational material, then Enlightened Rogues is an album for you.

It may have been four years since their last album, but Dickey Betts was still the focal point of the band. He wrote or co-wrote five of the eight tracks, provided the lead guitar work, and shared lead vocal duties with Gregg Allman.

There may not have been any tracks that can be considered essential, but the album is populated with a number of consistently good songs. The best of the lot was a Dickey Betts instrumental. “Pegasus” was a guitarist’s delight as Betts and Toler melded together well, plus the band members each step forward like The Allman Brothers of old.

The best of the other Betts compositions was the rocker, “Crazy Love,” which became a Top 30 hit single for the band. Betts’ slide guitar and vocal drive the melody along.

The most unique song was “Try It One More Time,” which he wrote with bassist Goldflies. Allman and Betts exchange lead vocals throughout the song, which makes it one of the more unusual ones in its catalogue.

Betts ventures into blues territory with “Can’t Take It With You,” which gives both drummers a chance to shine.

Two blues tunes are given modern interpretations. B.B. King’s “Blind Love” features a bluesy vocal by Gregg Allman and driving guitars by Betts and Toler. “Need Your Love So Bad” is a competent cover of Mertis John’s old blues tune, first recorded by his brother Little Willie John.

The only Gregg Allman composition was “Just Ain’t Easy.” While it may not be the best song he ever wrote, it is a ballad that represents this era of The Allman Brothers well.

Enlightened Rogues is an underappreciated album that sometimes flies under the radar. It is an excellent look back at the middle period of the group’s career.

Article first published as Music Review: The Allman Brothers – Enlightened Rogues on Blogcritics.


Reach For The Sky by The Allman Brothers

March 17, 2011

The Allman Brothers returned during the summer of 1980 with their ninth album, Reach For The Sky. Its line-up of keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Allman, guitarist/vocalist Dickey Betts, drummer Jai Johnny Johanson, guitarist Dan Toler, bassist David Goldflies, and drummer Butch Trucks remained intact for the second album in a row.

I have two basic problems with this album. First, the songs are good in places, but they do not hang together particularly well. Many of the songs seem a better fit for a Dickey Betts or Gregg Allman solo album than for an Allman Brothers release. Secondly, the group should have made a better label choice. Its long term Capricorn label had folded for financial reasons. I’m not sure the Arista label quite knew what to do with them or how to promote the band, as many of its artists were far removed from their southern rock sound. They should have accepted The Allman Brothers on their own terms as they did the Grateful Dead, who were also signed to the label. It all added up to an average release with moderate sales.

Dickey Betts continued to be the primary composer, as he wrote or co-wrote five of the tracks. Gregg Allman contributed two and guitarist Dan Toler co-wrote three tracks.

As was becoming the custom, the best of the tracks was a Dickey Betts instrumental. “From The Madness Of The West” may not have been as melodic as some of his other creations, but the guitar work is some of the best of his career. He had developed a unique style, which was and remains instantly recognizable. Toler proves more than able as his second guitarist. There is a classic drum solo that connects the two parts of the song.

There are a number of other representative tracks. “Hell and High Water” is a nice autobiographical song with a gospel feel to it. “Mystery Woman,” written by Gregg Allman and Dan Toler, quickly finds a nice groove. It may be a little more pop-oriented than a lot of The Allman Brothers material, but it is pleasurable. “So Long” was another Allman/Toler composition, and Allman shines.

Reach For The Sky contains no big surprises and is representative of the mid-period of The Allman Brothers career. It contains some good and some very average music. If you want the best of The Allman Brothers, there are a lot of better places to start.

Article first published as Music Review: The Allman Brothers – Reach For The Sky on Blogcritics.


Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas by The Allman Brothers

March 12, 2011

The Allman Brothers had disbanded following the release of 1975’s Win, Lose Or Draw. The band’s label, Capricorn, was experiencing financial problems. Capricorn also had a number of live recordings in the vault. The inevitable result of this situation was Capricorn issuing a live album to cash in on the band’s popularity. It all ended better than might have been expected at the time, as Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas may not have been the equal of their classic At Fillmore East, but was an excellent album in its own right.

The album remains an excellent document of the band’s second incarnation. Duane Allman and Berry Oakley were both dead and had been replaced by bassist Lamar Williams and pianist Chuck Leavell. Their addition had changed the sound of the band as now Richard Betts was the sole guitarist and Leavell and Gregg Allman were dual keyboardists.

The album’s tracks were taken from five concerts recorded between December 31, 1972-October 24, 1975. The first five tracks, which covered the first two sides of the original two record vinyl release, were all recorded September 26, 1973 at Winterland, in San Francisco. As such they have a nice flow to them. The last six tracks have a more disjoined feel due to their different origens.

The gem of the first set was a 17 minute version of “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.” It’s always interesting to compare this performance with the one on At Fillmore East. While I miss Duane Allman, this version has a lot to recommend it. It is more laid back with a nice jazzy feel. Richard Betts carries on as the one guitarist but it is the interaction between Leavell, Gregg, and Williams that propels the song along.

Side one contains a nice bluesy vocal by Gregg Allman on “Wasted Words,” and the bands rocks through “Southbound.” The interesting track is a seven minute performance of “Ramblin’ Man.” It was not a usual part of their live set as its tight structure was not suited for improvisation. Here, however, they extend the song a bit and it comes across well.

The second half of the release is more diverse but contains several very solid tracks. “Jessica” may not have Les Dudek’s second guitar that graced the original recording, but Chuck Leavell’s piano more than makes up for it, in what may be his finest performance as an Allman Brother. “It’s Not My Cross To Bear” is an example of the double keyboards of Leavell and Allman working well together. “Can’t Lose What You Never Had” is a nice rock/blues fusion piece.

Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas may always come out second best when compared to At Fillmore East, but it contains a lot of good music from an unappreciated period in the life of The Allman Brothers. It remains an album that should be approached on its own merits.

Article first published as Music Review: The Allman Brothers – Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas on Blogcritics.


Win, Lose Or Draw by The Allman Brothers

March 12, 2011

The Allman Brothers recovered well after the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley. 1973’s Brothers and Sisters topped the American album charts and remains one of the strongest releases in the band’s catalog.

Two years later, the group returned with Win, Lose Or Draw. The album would find the band in crisis and on the verge of dissolution. Personal differences had arisen during the last couple of years. Dickey—then known as Richard—Betts had taken over the leadership of the band, which did not sit well with some of the other members. Drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks skipped the recording sessions for two of the songs and were replaced by producer Johnny Sandlin and session musician Bill Stewart. The music scene was also changing and the sound of The Allman Brothers was out of vogue.

The album was an inconsistent affair with three very good songs, one that was average, and three filler tracks. It would be a commercial success, reaching number five on The United States album charts, but some of that was probably due to the band’s past reputation.

When The Allman Brothers are good, they are very good and such was the case with three of the tracks. “Can’t Lose What You Never Had” is an old Muddy Waters tune. The band was at the top of its game as they fused its blues roots with its southern rock style. It ended up as one the hardest rocking tracks of the group’s career.

The title song was a Gregg Allman composition. The vocal may not have been the best of his career, but the song itself remains one of his superior compositions. “High Falls” was one of those instrumentals that Richard Betts was so good at creating. It has a jazzy feel, with Chuck Leavell’s piano work providing a nice foundation. The song stretches out to over 14 minutes, so there is room for the band members to step forward and shine like the band of old.

Just Another Love Song” is another Betts song. The writing may be average at best, but his guitar work saves the day. By the time of this release, he had established himself as one of the premier guitarists in the world. Betts had developed a tone and sound that was unique and easily recognizable.

The final three tracks are not up to par. Gregg Allman’s “Nevertheless” and Betts’ “”Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty” just never take off and are now forgotten in the band’s vast catalog. The Allman Brothers were usually adept at picking cover songs, but Billy Joe Shaver’s “Sweet Mama” was a rare miss.

Win, Lose Or Draw had some high points but was ultimately a disappointment. The band would not produce another studio album until it reformed during the late ’70s. This is an album only listenable for a few tracks.

Article first published as Music Review: The Allman Brothers – Win, Lose Or Draw on Blogcritics.


Brothers and Sisters by The Allman Brothers

March 8, 2011

The original Allman Brothers were gone and never to return. They had produced some of the best southern rock and blues in music history. I knew at the time, they would be missed. The reconstituted Allman Brothers were a surprise as they produced an excellent, if different sounding, album. It may be The Allman Brothers album that I have listened to the most times down through the years.

Duane Allman had been dead for about a year. Two tracks into the recording process, bassist Berry Oakley died in a motorcycle accident about three blocks from Duane’s. The four remaining members decided to forge ahead. Vocalist/keyboardist Gregg Allman, lead guitarist Richard Betts, drummers Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks recruited pianist Chuck Leavell and bassist Lamar Williams as the new members. The big change was the addition of Leavell which gave the band two keyboardists instead of two guitarists. Having said that, Les Dudek was used a session guitarist on two tracks. He proved to be a perfect foil for Betts.

Brothers and Sisters may be Richard (or Dickey) Betts finest work. He wrote four of the seven tracks, two of which would be memorable. He also stepped forward and provided lead guitar work that would have made Duane Allman proud.

The Allman Brothers were, and are, primarily an album oriented band. Their releases have sold tens of millions of copies. “Ramblin’ Man,” however, was one of the classic singles of the 1970’s and still receives considerable airplay. It would be a huge hit reaching number 2 on The American Singles Chart. It was a tightly constructed song and formed a self-contained unit. It was not open to much improvisation when played live. Betts lead guitar work will make you ache in a good way. This is one of the tracks that Les Dudek provides the essential second guitar sound. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame would name it as one of The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock ‘N’ Roll.

His other eternal track was “Jessica,” which was named for his daughter. The seven minute instrumental again featured Dudek as the second guitarist, and he matched well with Betts. The piano of Leavell and organ of Gregg Allman combine to give the sound a unique foundation.

Betts other two compositions may not have been of the caliber of the first two, but they were still very good. “Southbound” was the perfect song for a Gregg Allman vocal and Betts wisely lets him provide it. “Pony Boy” was a nice country sounding rock tune.

Gregg Allman contributed two tracks. “Wasted Words” contains a bluesy vocal plus some tasty slide guitar by Betts. “Come and Go Blues” has a nice soulful appeal.

The only average track was the Trade Martin composition, “Jelly Jelly.” The band gives it a traditional and competent blues work-out.

Brothers and Sisters would usher in the second phase of The Allman Brothers career. They would continue to produce good music, but very few albums as consistently excellent as this one.

Article first published as Music Review: The Allman Brothers – Brothers and Sisters on Blogcritics.


Eat A Peach by The Allman Brothers

March 6, 2011

Life was good for The Allman Brothers. At Fillmore East had been a commercial breakthrough for the group. It was then recognized as one of the best live bands in the world and Duane Allman had ascended to the top rung of guitarists. Rolling Stone Magazine would place him at number 2 on its list of The Best Guitarists Of All Time.

Everything came to an abrupt halt when Duane climbed onto his motorcycle on October 29, 1971. Shortly after, he was dead as a truck came to a halt in his path. Bassiet Berry Oakley would die just over a year later in a similar accident three blocks from Allman’s.

Producer Tom Dowd would assemble Eat A Peach from studio tracks recorded before and after Duane’s death, plus live material left over from the band’s last album. Eat A Peach was released on February 12, 1972. While it may not have been as consistent as some of its other releases due to its piecemeal approach, many of the songs when taken individually were brilliant and remain some of the strongest the band would produce. Just shy of four decades later, these tracks retain the brilliance and creativity that marked the original Allman Brothers Band.

The center of the album was the debut of the 33-minute live “Mountain Jam,” which has since been added to the extended CD reissues of At Fillmore East. The energy that is maintained for a half hour is amazing, as it provides an eternal document at just how good the band was at this point during its career. Duane Allman does what he was born to do, and that is playing the guitar. While all the members take solos, it is Duane who soars during the last 10 minutes.

The album’s first track, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” was written before Duane Allman’s death. It was a fitting tribute, as it deals with thoughts about immortality. Dickey Betts steps forward as the one guitarist in a two-guitar band.

“Melissa” was a song co-written by Gregg Allman that dated back to his and Duane’s Hour Glass days. This old ballad has remained an important part of the group’s live show for decades.

“One Way Out” and “Trouble No More” are both classic blues tunes. They both are live performances and find the band in its comfort zone as it presents solid interpretations.

The final three tracks of the original double vinyl release were the last studio tracks featuring Duane Allman. “Stand Back” features Duane’s slide guitar technique and has a nice funky feel. “Blue Sky” is a Dickey Betts ballad, which contained his first lead vocal. Both he and Duane take solos. The album concludes with the only Duane Allman solo composition. The all to short “”Little Martha” is a wonderful acoustic piece featuring basically Duane and Dickey.

Eat A Peach brought the first phase of the band’s career to a close. There would be a lot more good music to come but it would not be the
same.

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