The Allman Brothers are a rather heavy white blues group out of Muscle Shoals. They look like the post-teen punk band rehearsing next door, and there is little in their music that we haven’t heard before. And both they and their album are a gas.
For all the white blooze bands proliferating today, it’s still inspiring when the real article comes along, a white group who’ve transcended their schooling to produce a volatile blues-rock sound of pure energy, inspiration and love. The Allmans have learned their lessons well, and they play with the same drive and conviction as their mentors. When I first put this album on the driving instrumental that opens it began the clean, ringing guitar riffs in “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” made that battered 12-bar blues form seem fresh again. The Allmans know what they’re doing, and feel it deeply as well, and they communicate immediately.
One of the virtues of a simple, standardized form like the blues is that when played right it’s such a comfortable place to return to. The whole album is like that. You’ve been here a thousand times before, and it feels like home instead of mind-numbing banality because the Allmans have mastered the form with rare subtlety, and also because their blues keep you vibrating from one brilliant hardrock interpolation to the next.
That’s why the album’s pinnacle for me is “Dreams,” a beautiful, aching lament in waltz-time. It begins with softly pulsing organ and throaty, movingly understated vocal all about a man whose world is crumbling because “I’m hung up/On Dreams.” A familiar story, but the way it’s written and delivered by the Allmans makes it poignantly realistic and universal.
It might seem strange to apply the adjective “lovely” to a heavy-white-blues album, but that is what this record so paradoxically is. Sometimes it sounds like what Led Zeppelin might have been if they weren’t hung up on gymnastics. Sometimes it sounds like the more-lyrical Louisiana cousins of Johnny Winter. But what it is consistently is subtle, and honest, and moving.