The Allman Brothers Band

     The Allman Brothers Band (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1969)
     Idlewild South (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1970)
      At Fillmore East (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1971)
     Eat a Peach (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1972)
      Beginnings (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1973)
     Brothers and Sisters (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1973)
    Win, Lose or Draw (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1975)
     The Road Goes On Forever (1975; Universal, 2001)
    Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1976)
    Enlightened Rogues (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1979)
      Dreams (PolyGram, 1989)
     Live at Ludlow Garage (PolyGram, 1990)
    Seven Turns (Epic, 1990)
     Shades of Two Worlds (Epic, 1991)
     A Decade of Hits 1969–1979 (PolyGram, 1991)
     An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band (Sony, 1992)
     The Fillmore Concerts (PolyGram, 1992)
     Where It All Begins (Sony, 1994)
   Hell & High Water: The Best of the Arista Years (Arista, 1994)
     An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band: 2nd Set (Sony, 1995)
     Mycology: An Anthology (Sony, 1998)
    Peakin' at the Beacon (Sony, 2000)
    The Millennium Collection (PolyGram, 2000)
    Hittin' the Note (Peach/Sanctuary, 2003)
    One Way Out (Sanctuary, 2004)
    1/2 Stand Back: The Anthology (Hip-O, 2004)

Duane Allman
     An Anthology (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1972)
     Anthology, Vol. 2 (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1974)

Gregg Allman
    Laid Back (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1974)
    The Gregg Allman Tour (Polydor, 1974)
     Playin' Up a Storm (Capricorn/PolyGram, 1977)
    I'm No Angel (Epic, 1987)
    Just Before the Bullets Fly (Epic, 1988)
    Searching for Simplicity (Sony, 1997)
    One More Try: An Anthology (Capricorn, 1997)
    No Stranger to the Dark: The Best of Gregg Allman (Epic/Legacy, 2002)
    The Millennium Collection (Universal, 2002)

Don't be fooled by the two lead guitars, the two drummers, the legendary concerts that only kicked into gear around the two-hour mark: Boogie-'til-you-puke overkill really isn't a part of the Allman Brothers' recorded legacy. Guitarist Duane and singer-organist Gregg Allman knocked around Los Angeles in the late Sixties, polishing their chops in third-billed psychedelic ballroom bands such as the Hour Glass and Allman Joys. Moving back to Macon, GA, in 1968, the Allmans put together a powerhouse outfit of similarly inclined players: second guitarist Dickey Betts, bassist Berry Oakley, drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson. At the same time, Duane Allman began doing session work at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama—where this skinny white hippie quickly earned a reputation as a stinging, soulful accompanist. Duane and Gregg both exhibited a natural feel for black music that the much-hyped British "blues masters" of the period couldn't begin to match. Growing up in the South, they absorbed gutbucket R&B and sanctified gospel along with the more common influences of soul and freedom jazz, and came up with an unprecedented sound: a searching, polyrhythmic extension of rock. Duane and Dickey Betts shied away from distortion and overamplified special effects; instead, they stroked clean, precise lines out of their Gibsons. On a good night, they seemed to nudge and push each other toward new heights, supported by a massive, rock-solid wall of rhythms. And Gregg's capacity as a blues belter—already startling when he was in his early Twenties—grows deeper and more resonant with time.

The "Don't Want You No More"/"It's Not My Cross to Bear" medley kicks off the debut in definitive style. After a fluid jazzy intro ("Don't Want You") the band explodes into a slow blues ("Not My Cross") where Duane's guitar and Gregg's voice join in a beautifully anguished duet—wailing from the very depths of their souls. The bittersweet, organ-drenched "Dreams" showcases the band's easy-rolling melodic punch, while "Whipping Post" draws up a sturdy blueprint for the cathartic concert extrapolations that would become the Brothers' signature.

Idlewild South is way too skimpy timewise, but the musical development is stunning. The Bible-thumping "Revival" points up a crucial country music influence and the haunting, melancholy "Midnight Rider" fully asserts Gregg's identity as a singer. Once again, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" presents the blueprint of a concert warhorse, capturing the Allmans at their most adventurous. This is what jazz-rock fusion groups of the mid-Seventies should have aspired toward.

Some would say At Fillmore East is the peak achievement of the band. Certainly, it communicates all the excitement and drama of the group's concert explorations. The blues standards sound grittier and more rockin' than anything on the first two albums, and after "Whipping Post" builds to its shuddering peak, that long spacey fade-out provides sheer post-orgasmic bliss. Nevertheless, Beginnings (the debut album and Idlewild packaged together) gets the nod over Fillmore since it takes account of the band's considerable pop-song potential as well as its instrumental prowess. But rock jamming just doesn't get any better than Fillmore East—except, perhaps, on 1992's expanded, double-CD version, The Fillmore Concerts.

Just a few months after At Fillmore East was recorded, Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident. He was 24. The stopgap Eat a Peach extracts even more magic from the historic Fillmore stand. Perhaps the live "Mountain Jam" (almost three quarters of an hour long) loses something in the translation to disc, but the snarling cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's "One Way Out" and devastatingly pretty studio tracks such as "Blue Sky" add quite a bit to the legend.

Bassist Berry Oakley was killed in similar circumstances in 1972, just a little more than a year to the day after Duane's accident. Miraculously, the remaining group bounced back strong with Brothers and Sisters, wisely adding a pianist, Chuck Leavell (rather than trying to replace Duane with another guitarist), and emphasizing Dickey Betts' country-tinged picking and singing. The Brothers' refurbished, slightly twangier sound soon became the flagship model of a new genre—"Southern rock." The instrumental "Jessica" isn't quite up to the standard of "Elizabeth Reed," but the liquid guitar leads on the hit single "Ramblin' Man" introduced the pop mainstream to a tangy, intoxicating regional delight.

Hard touring (and the resultant hard living) took an inevitable toll on the band, though. Win, Lose or Draw, a lackluster live album (Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas), and a passable best-of (The Road Goes On Forever) show further signs of strain. Enlightened Rogues, from 1979, has its moments, though the presence of guest star Bonnie Bramlett on the best cut ("Crazy Love") doesn't bode well for this proudly self-contained band. The band reached its low point with a pair of rudderless albums on Arista (Reach for the Sky and Brothers of the Road, both mercifully out of print) and seemed to break up for good in the early Eighties.

Inevitably, the Brothers reconvened during the nostalgic summer of 1989, but the group's live shows (featuring the added muscle of new guitarist Warren Haynes) quickly laid to rest any accusations of reputation pimping. Gregg's voice emerges with a fresh, whiskey-ruined authority on the respectable Seven Turns (1990), and somehow the 1991 followup, Shades of Two Worlds, actually expands on that renewed promise. The timeless, soaring improvisations of "Desert Blues" and "Sort of Bird" firmly reassert the band's unique, enduring brand of blues power, while Gregg fills his sobriety songs with the shaky conviction of lived experience: He's been to the "End of the Line" and back. Betts, meanwhile, contributes one of the best songs of his Allman Brothers career with Where It All Begins' "Back Where It All Begins." Never mind the soaring beauty of his country-jazz guitar soloing that pads out the song's nine-minute-plus running length; the real hook is in his warm and heartfelt delivery of the song's catchy chorus, which Dave Matthews would kill for.

But Where It All Begins would mark Betts' swan song with the group, apart from 2000's Peakin' at the Beacon. He was booted from the group in early 2000, and his characteristic country rock soul is missed on 2003's Hittin' the Note. That said, the album finds Gregg and the remaining players hitting the note more often than not, even if they never quite hit on anything new. The twin guitars of Haynes (back in the group after sitting out the second half of the Nineties) and new kid Derek Trucks pack plenty of punch—both in the extended jams and the opening "Firing Line," a particularly potent, straight-up blues rocker—and Gregg's brutally trenchant "Old Before My Time" is one of the most effectively world-weary life-on-the-road songs in a long, long time.

With four discs covering not only the band's greatest hits but also solo cuts and a sampling of Gregg and Duane's earlier work in Hour Glass and the Allman Joys, the 1989 box set Dreams is the definitive Allman Brothers Band anthology. (For a shorter career-spanning set, check out the two-disc Stand Back.) After that, the 2001 expanded double-disc version of The Road Goes On Forever improves on the original with 13 extra tracks, though the tighter A Decade of Hits is just as (if not more) potent. Mycology makes a convincing case for the reunited band's Nineties output, but Hell & High Water, which picks through the wreckage of the two best-forgotten Arista albums, is for completists only.

For Duane Allman enthusiasts, both volumes of An Anthology collect sterling examples of the late guitarist's session work—including tracks with the Hour Glass, Wilson Pickett, and Eric Clapton—and are highly recommended to guitar students and Southern-soul buffs alike. His famous solo on Aretha Franklin's "The Weight," on Volume One , is worth the price of admission alone. The same volume also features Derek and the Dominos' "Layla," but it's hard to imagine anyone shilling out for either of these collections who doesn't already own that album.

Brother Gregg, meanwhile, has had more time to work on his solo résumé. Never a prolific songwriter, he recast some of his Allman Brothers tunes as moody blues pop on his 1974 solo debut, Laid Back, and scored a surprise hit. The Gregg Allman Tour—which features a 24-piece orchestra—is lush but not without soul. The harder-hitting Playin' Up a Storm, from 1977, actually eclipsed most of the Allmans' work of the same period. A decade later, Gregg made a few tentative steps back in the right direction with I'm No Angel (1987), followed by Just Before the Bullets Fly (1988); the title track of the former presents a battle-scarred veteran with a surprising amount of fire left in his bones. The workmanlike Searching for Simplicity (1997), however, failed to turn up anything new. No Stranger to the Dark sums up the three latter albums, while the skimpier Millennium Collection focuses on the first three. One More Try devotes an exhausting two discs to solo Gregg—overkill, to say the least, though the abundance of previously unreleased and alternate tracks (including versions of many Allman Brothers Band tunes) doubtless lends the collection collector appeal.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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