Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Allman Brothers 1: The Allman Brothers Band

A common misconception, which we admit to holding for some time, is that the Allman Brothers Band fit into the category of “Southern rock”. The truth is that bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and the Marshall Tucker Band took the basic template of swamp living, dirt roads and Confederate flags to the another level, spawning any number of rednecks equally defensive of the Stars & Stripes as they are the flag atop the General Lee. Somehow, Kid Rock became a beacon of authenticity, turning his failed white rap identity into that of a yokel pimp unable to wash his hair, grow a full beard, or stay away from a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner. But we digress.
While there are a few songs in their catalog that fit easily alongside “Free Bird”, “Can’t You See” and other pickup truck anthems, the Allman Brothers Band were foremost a blues outfit that used jazz and psychedelia to color and expand the twelve-bar, three-chord format. Their self-titled debut demonstrates this ably on song after song.
The opening blast of “Don’t Want You No More” works as something of an overture, beginning with one door-slamming theme into another groove, and just when you think the vocals might kick in, it slows and shifts into the next track. “It’s Not My Cross To Bear” introduces the growl of Gregg Allman, not yet 22 but already spinning reels of sound from both the Hammond organ and his own throat. (Duane Allman gets most of the accolades for his slide guitar work, but some of the most exciting parts of the album are when he and Dickie Betts combine for harmonic riffs and solos.) “Black Hearted Woman” is another basic blues, except that the intro’s in 7/4 and most of the chords are complicated ninths. The Muddy Waters classic “Trouble No More” gets a definitive reading, with even an acoustic guitar expertly mixed in the sound picture.
“Every Hungry Woman” begins side two with a funky riff, before getting dangerously close to generic blues. Thankfully, it’s also a decent demonstration of the two drummers, and the next two songs lift the band above boring anybody. “Dreams” is a psychedelic shuffle in waltz time, spinning over the simplest ideas like the stream the boys are shown posing nekkid in on the gatefold. But the true climax is “Whipping Post”. Berry Oakley’s bass establishes the riff in 11/8 for the band to follow. The verses follow a standard meter, but it’s the instrumental parts, the real architecture, that make this such a mesmerizing performance that would only grow onstage.
At only 33 minutes, The Allman Brothers Band can seem occasionally slight, but each of the tracks succeeds, as if they’d been playing together for years. The album has a vibrant, live sound that has us thinking that it was recorded that way. We sure hope it was, as that would only add to the mystique.

The Allman Brothers Band The Allman Brothers Band (1969)—4

2 comments:

  1. Good write-up. To this day the Brothers don't like the "Southern rock" tag because of the jazz, blues, gospel and soul influences they display whenever they play. IMHO, theirs is the "Cosmic American Music" that Gram Parsons strived to achieve.

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  2. "Cosmic American Music"... you nailed it. Thanks, Tony.

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