The Allman Brothers Band has come almost eerily full circle with Shades of Two Worlds. Charged by topflight performances from Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman, the band summons up both the spirit and the musical resonance of the original group. Betts, continually overshadowed by the mythical stature of the late Duane Allman, has never been given credit for his own contribution to the band's sound. Betts's playing accounted for more of the hot licks on the early Allmans material than most listeners realize, but just as the great Cannonball Adderley was eclipsed by the young John Coltrane on the Miles Davis classic Kind of Blue, some of Betts's best work exists in people's imaginations as Duane Allman's music.
Betts's masterful soloing on "Nobody Knows" may dispel that perception. He soars under the influence of guitarist Warren Haynes, who has taken on the awesome responsibility of filling Duane Allman's chair and forced the band to play at an improvisational level it had not reached since Allman's death. The two guitarists soar through the pounding rhythm patterns set up by the percussion team of Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson, trading solos and reaching a dramatic climax before wrapping up with a beautiful extended coda.
Haynes, who was warned by friends not to join the band lest he be typecast as a Duane clone, chose instead to walk in the footsteps of his hero; he plays slide as if a guiding hand were at work. He references Allman's tone and signature techniques yet animates his presentation with his own distinct personality. The rejuvenation of the band's guitar magic is paralleled by the reawakening of Gregg Allman, who sings as well as ever on several harrowing tales about the hell of drug addiction. He delivers his chilling messages like a man emerging from a nightmare.
Creative high points are the product of neither luck nor design. They occur when artists open the window to their heart and soul. Right now the Allman Brothers Band, two albums into its new identity and fired by the achievement of Shades of Two Worlds, should finally be ready to pick up where it left off after Live at Fillmore East.