Friday, January 21, 2011

Several Species Of Small Furry Thoughts - Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman has always been a complicated figure. Initially under the shadow of big brother Duane, he seemed like the perennially shy, reluctant frontman. After Duane’s death, his reluctance never subsided. Within the Allman Brothers cosmology he has always allowed others - Dickie Betts, Chuck Leavell, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks - to stand in the spotlight while he stays off to the side and anchors the band’s soul with his earthy Hammond playing and gritty vocals. His solo career has been characterized by “few and far between.” None of his solo albums have revealed the depths of Gregg’s heart to his fans. None until now! His new album, Low Country Blues finally delivers on the promise of Gregg Allman. Under the careful guidance of producer T-Bone Burnett, Gregg is surrounded by a simple and sympathetic band (highlighted by Dr. John on piano and Doyle Bramhall II and Mr. Burnett on guitars, as well as superb rhythm section Jay Bellarose on drums and Dennis Crouch on acoustic bass) and leads them through a program of blues and soul that showcases all his strengths. Allman’s vocals have always been remarkable. He is one of very few white people who can legitimately sing the blues and not sound affected. His approach is always slow and deep. He never partakes in the over-souled histrionics of his contemporaries; instead delivering songs with a laconic authority that can’t be learned. Of all his peers, Allman has always seemed like he had come the closest to the fires of Hell, and rather than brag about it, he has hidden his knowledge in the painful sincerity of his delivery. There is never any fake white-boy growl in his voice, instead, like on Amos Milburn’s “Tears Tears Tears” he merely seems to open his mouth a little wider, and like a lion his roar is natural and unaffected. 
Throughout the 11 covers and one original on this album, the listener never questions Allman’s right to this material. He tackles, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Otis Rush, Sleepy John Estes, Skip James and others, and delivers on every single track. The best are those when T-Bone Burnett is able to capture a simple, haunting beat and let Allman’s other-worldly vocals take center stage. They succeed to greatest effect on Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman,” Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and a couple of public domain numbers, “I Believe I’ll Go Back Home” and “Rollin’ Stone” which features a haunting Dobro part by Colin Linden. 

Gregg Allman has always been a natural for the enjoyable blues rock of The Allman Brothers Band, but many have suspected that below the surface their lurked a darker soul and more profound talent. Low Country Blues shows that that talent is indeed there, flowing in the same river as his heroes. He is part of the continuum of American Roots Music that he has always paid tribute to. He is home. 

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