The Allman Brothers Band are putting the finishing touches on a new studio album, which, if it hits a projected March release date, will be its first in almost nine years. The record will also be the Allman's first with a reconfigured lineup that now includes guitar whiz Derek Trucks instead of original Brother Dickey Betts.
"We're all real proud of it," says guitarist Warren Haynes, a "new" Brother with more than twelve years of service. "The vibe of making the record -- writing the material and putting it together -- was the best that its been in a really long time. Everybody's excited and it feels like it's the best Allman Brothers Band record in many, many years."
Haynes co-produced the album with Michael Barbiero (a longtime collaborator with Haynes' other band, Gov't Mule), whose resume also includes production and mixing duty on albums by Guns n' Roses, Metallica, Cypress Hill and Blues Traveler. The album, for which the group is still trying to find a title, will include covers of the Rolling Stones' "Heart of Stone" and Freddie King's "Woman Across the River." Also on the set will be "Rocking Horse," a song Haynes co-wrote with Gregg Allman and originally recorded on Gov't Mule's 1995 self-titled debut. Also dusted off was "Mydelle," which Haynes co-wrote with ex-Allmans keyboardist Johnny Neel for the band's 1990 album, Seven Turns. "Desdemona," "All Before My Time," Firing Line" and "High Cost of Low Living" are also among the new songs that might be familiar to those who have caught the band in concert recently.
Though the album represents the first studio fruits from the Allmans in nearly a decade, the band has hardly been dormant. The Allmans released a pair of live albums, An Evening With the Allman Brothers Band: First Set in 1992 and Second Set in 1995. In 2000, the band issued Peakin' at the Beacon, a document of its 2000 residence at New York City's Beacon Theater. The group also recently launched a series of vintage live recordings with American University 12-13-70 on their Allman Brothers Band Recording Company label. The album is available at Allman shows and through mail order.
As for the new album, the band is hoping the release will coincide with its 2003 Beacon Theater run. The Beacon dates, like last year, will be abbreviated compared to some of the month-long stretches in years past. But the group will still set up shop March 13-15, 17-18 and 20-22. Tickets for the shows went on sale last week.
After thirty years of service, Betts got his ouster from the band in May 2000 for reasons specified as "creative differences." In addition to Allman, Haynes and Trucks, the current lineup includes original percussionists Butch Trucks and Jaimoe. The band suffered a more tragic loss months after Betts' dismissal when bassist Allen Woody, also a Gov't Mule member who joined the Allmans around the same time as Haynes, died of heart failure.
Haynes and Gov't Mule have recorded two albums since Woody's death, The Deep End, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, which featured new songs with guest bassists including Flea, Larry Graham and John Entwistle, as a tribute to Woody. According to Haynes, the Mule plans to play a few more tour dates with rotating bassists before moving forward. "As long as we're promoting the Deep End series, then we'll continue to utilize the other bass players," Haynes says. "I'm proud of the way it turned out. It's not a tribute in the normal sense of the word, because it's all new material. But it definitely honors Allen Woody. But once that's run its course, which will be sometime next year, it'll be time for us to decide and announce who the new bass player is going to be. When we do the next official project, it'll be with the new bass player."
In addition to Haynes' fourteenth annual Christmas Jam -- a December 21st event featuring Bob Weir, Robert Randolph and others to benefit Habitat for Humanity -- Gov't Mule have set up a pair of New York City gigs, December 30th and 31st at the Beacon Theater. In Deep End tradition, Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel), George Porter Jr. (the Meters), Andy Hess and others will divide the four-string duties.
"It's been a busy couple of years," Haynes says. "Between Gov't Mule, Phil Lesh and Friends and the Allman Brothers Band, it's meant a lot of time on the road. But they're good years nonetheless, aside from the obvious tragedies. It's amazing how life works that way. Something like losing your best friend can turn you towards a lot of great things. And you just don't question it."