Saturday, February 11, 2012

THE REVIEW CORNER: The Allman Brothers Band's first four studio recordings

Many of you born after 1970 probably never had this band on your radar, but The Allman Brothers Band is totally worth your time and money to check out -- and their first four studio albums in particular. I'm going outside of Live at the Fillmore East 1971, their classic live album....that, of course, goes without saying.

The cover of The Allman Brothers Band's self-titled debut recording from 1969
Their first four recordings go as follows: The Allman Brothers Band (1969), Idlewild South (1970), Eat a Peach (1972), and Brothers and Sisters (1973). The growth of the band over the span of these recordings is a fascinating study....with the hard blues of the first album to the explorations, instrumentals, and extended jams of each later recording.

While their eponymous debut doesn't carry a long string of hits except for "Whippin Post," there's lots of wonderful bluesy numbers on this album that are substantive, resonating, and feature some fantastic guitar from Duane Allman. Highlights include "Black Hearted Woman," "Trouble No More," and my personal favorite on the album, "Dreams," with some of Duane Allman's more experimental picking -- almost like an early effort at tapping or hammer-ons. "Whippin Post," the album's last number, is the perfect closer and hints at the band finding its true voice....a mere sign of things to come.

With the next three albums, things just keep progressing....the band solidifies its sound through each successive recording. I find the music from this band to have a very soulful and almost wistful edge to their blues from Idlewild South like "Midnight Rider," the instrumental "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," and the funk-tinged "Leave My Blues at Home" -- with some killer drumming grooves.

Eat a Peach kicks off with "Ain't Wastin Time No More," and features highlights such as "Les Brers in A Minor" (with an almost Santana-infused approach), "Melissa" and my personal favorite "Blue Sky" while Brothers and Sisters highlights "Wasted Words," "Rambin Man," "Southbound," and the popular instrumental "Jessica."

You can't go wrong with any of these recordings.....but I believe to get a full perspective of them all, and to give yourself the best possible listening experience, you need to listen to them in succession. That's where the development of the band reveals itself.

What's even more amazing -- and not necessarily evident in the recordings (unless you're a student of Duane Allman & Dickey Betts' styles and can differentiate them) -- is that the band suffered not one, but two casualties during the span of these recordings. Duane Allman, their lead guitarist, was killed in a motorcycle accident during the recording sessions to Eat a Peach, and their bass player Berry Oakley during the sessions to Brothers and Sisters -- also killed from head injuries sustained from a motorcycle accident a mere three blocks from the location of Allman's fatal accident. Spooky stuff.

Still, the music speaks for itself. Yes, I'm sure this is technically considered "Southern Rock," however that definition might be stretched....but when I listen to these boys, I just hear some killer blues by one of the all-time great jam bands. I hear more shades of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Grateful Dead, The Band, and Santana before I hear anything "southern."

The CD version to their first four studio albums are available at Amazon for around five bucks apiece, with the exception of Eat a Peach, which is a double album featuring selected live cuts from the Fillmore East should be able to get outfitted with all four works for under $30.