Friday, August 1, 2014

Allman Brothers 5: Brothers And Sisters

Their career had barely started when the Allman Brothers Band seemed truly cursed. Already adjusting to life without one member, now they had to contend with the death of under-appreciated bass player Berry Oakley in a motorcycle wreck all too similar to Duane’s. They had already begun recording their next album, and continued with a new bass player, as well as the now-legendary Chuck Leavell on piano to take some pressure off Gregg, who was preoccupied with his own album anyway. Amidst this disorder, Dickey Betts took over and ran the show for the better part of the next 17 years.
As their first single LP in a while, as well as containing no live material, Brothers And Sisters is forced to compare with what’s come before, and with different weapons in their arsenal. Four of the tracks are credited to Dickey alone, with Gregg writing two. One of those is “Wasted Words”, a great opener lyrically and musically, showing how well Dickey had progressed on slide guitar. But right when you’re settling in for a decent listen, here comes “Ramblin’ Man”, one of the band’s biggest hits and least representative of them at their best. Whatever your opinion of southern rock, this song paved the way; after four decades of exposure these ears can only tolerate the well-sculpted second half, with those precise guitar harmonies from Dickey and guest Les Dudek. “Come And Go Blues” is Gregg’s only other contributed composition, with shades of Bobby Whitlock from the Layla album. It’s got the hallmarks of a good long jam, but ends too abruptly. In its place is “Jelly Jelly”, an arrangement of a song from several different sources in the “Stormy Monday” mode that sounds a lot longer than it is. It too fades, having us wonder what we missed.
Returning to the brevity of their first albums, side two has three songs, each very different, all written by Dickey, or so the label says. “Southbound” is decent boogie with lots of piano, and the last time we’ll hear Gregg’s voice on the album. “Jessica” is the other most recognized song here, a lengthy instrumental that sits at the intersection of “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” and “Revival”. It’s almost impossible not to smile while it plays. Finally, “Pony Boy” is an acoustic hoedown in the style of Robert Johnson, ably supported by Chuck, no Gregg or Jaimoe in sight.
Brothers And Sisters can’t help but to be less than stellar; as it was, the wheels had certainly come off the band, and wouldn’t return until a guy named Warren Haynes came into the picture. To be fair, Dickey holds his own and anybody else’s with the guitar duties, and Chuck Leavell was an excellent addition to the mix. Arriving alongside the first Lynyrd Skynyrd album and riding the southern rock wave through the rest of the decade, its popularity seemingly justified the release of a 40th anniversary Super Deluxe Edition, bolstered by a disc of jams and rehearsals plus two discs with a Winterland performance showing off the new lineup.

The Allman Brothers Band Brothers And Sisters (1973)—3

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