Given his place in the pantheon of American rock music, Gregg Allman's solo career away from the Allman Brothers Band has been generally disappointing. Perhaps that's why it took nearly a decade between his previous album, 1997's Searching for Simplicity (its title alone indicates his frustrations) and 1988's over-produced yet underwhelming Just ...
Given his place in the pantheon of American rock music, Gregg Allman's solo career away from the Allman Brothers Band has been generally disappointing. Perhaps that's why it took nearly a decade between his previous album, 1997's Searching for Simplicity (its title alone indicates his frustrations) and 1988's over-produced yet underwhelming Just Before the Bullets Fly. A whopping 14 years later, Allman joins forces with roots producer to the stars T-Bone Burnett, hoping that some of the latter's mojo can rub off on a singer who is one of the great white soul and blues vocalists in rock music. For the most part it does, as the duo choose 11 relatively obscure covers from classic artists such as Bobby "Blue" Bland, Junior Wells, and B.B. King that have clearly influenced Allman's musical approach. The backing is organic but far from stripped-down with horns, multiple guitars, and even background vocalists supporting the singer's patented crusty growl. From the opening raw thump of the ominous Sleepy John Estes' "Floating Bridge" to a peppy yet intense take on Muddy Waters' "I Can't be Satisfied" and a fiery reworking of Magic Sam's "My Love Is Your Love," Allman sounds invested and inspired by this material and his musical surroundings. Veterans such as Dr. John (credited here with his real name, Mac Rebennack), Doyle Bramhall II, and Burnett's often used rhythm section of drummer Jay Bellerose and Dennis Crouch on bass keep a taut yet easygoing lock on the groove. That's particularly evident on the predominantly acoustic version of Skip James' "Devil Got My Woman." The horns that appear on five tunes never overpower the sound yet help propel Allman's soul-searing performance of Bland's "Blind Man." Ditto for Otis Rush's slow blues "Checking on My Baby," which brings the vocalist back to his "Stormy Monday"-styled beginnings. One original co-written with Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes, "Just Another Rider," while not a terrible song, pales in comparison with the rest of the material and could have been saved for the next Brothers album, where it might make a better fit. Allman is credited with B-3 on the majority of the tunes, but his contributions are generally mixed so low as to be nearly inaudible. His organ can be heard on a low-down run-through of Amos Milburn's "Tears, Tears, Tears" that captures a sweet, jazzy noir West Coast blues. It adds up to Allman's best and surely most focused and cohesive solo release, and one where the template can hopefully be repeated in less time than it took this to appear. ~ Hal Horowitz, Rovi
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