You have to feel a little sorry for the Allman Brothers Band, a seminal group for whom the words luck and timing have never fully applied. In the wake of last year's weighty Dreams boxed set and reunion tour, the surviving original members — Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson — regrouped for their first studio album in eight years. Simultaneously, PolyGram has unearthed a rare two-decade-old recording featuring Gregg's late brother Duane — yet another painful memory of All That Might Have Been.
The irony is highlighted by the oldfangled feel of Seven Turns, which finds the Brothers working with their original producer, Tom Dowd. Gone is the walking-death gloss of their two early-Eighties Arista albums; in its place are vivid recreations of past glory. Betts's latest gonna-ramble travelogue, "Let Me Ride," ends with a cascading piano roll direct from "Southbound"; "Low Down Dirty Mean" is "Pony Boy" redux. Other standbys include the lost-on-the-highway-of-life ballad ("Seven Turns"), the requisite Southern-fusion jam ("True Gravity"), the dual guitar parts (by Betts and second guitarist Warren Haynes) and Allman's husky-voiced, done-me-wrong moaners.
None of those moments match anything on Eat a Peach or Brothers and Sisters, but Seven Turns isn't about making history; it's about finding joy in inspired professionalism. On that level, the album puts facile imitators like Jeff Healey firmly in their place. Two of its strongest tracks, "Shine It On" and "Good Clean Fun," are ferocious, full of snarly Betts-Haynes leads and the dueling kits of Trucks and Jaimoe. The languid "It Ain't Over Yet" glides by on a Southern breeze, and "Loaded Dice" breathes fresh life into white-boy blues and gambling-metaphor lyrics. In true Southern fashion, a sense of defeatism lingers over Seven Turns. But so does the sense that after all the creased faces and dashed solo careers, the Allmans can still sound like a vibrant, working band — a remarkable accomplishment in itself.
As for Ludlow Garage, only die-hard Allmanites will want to wade through the second disc of the two-CD set, which consists entirely of "Mountain Jam." At forty-four mind-boggling minutes, it's over ten minutes longer than the marathon Eat a Peach version. The rest of the set — "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Statesboro Blues," "Dreams" and other early standards — is enjoyably rough-hewed but inessential. Still, when Duane's slide rips into "Trouble No More" or when the group launches its free-flight improvisations, the floodgates open for those familiar feelings of loss and unfulfilled promise. But with the Allmans carrying on stoically, we really don't need such reminders.