Where do blues and country music meet? Why, with The Allman Brothers Band, a group whose trajectory took in fame and tragedy long before they achieved classic rock status. Here’s their best work, in a box…
Fresh, raw and bursting with energy, The Allman Brothers Band (7⁄10) was released in 1969 and showcases a band with everything to prove. That said, the sublime guitar solos from Duane Allman and Dickey Betts – as well as the organ textures laid down by Gregg Allman – revolve around subtlety rather than youthful showing off: there’s maturity here. The seven-minute Dreams is the core of the album, although you have to admire the whippersnapper cojones of Black Hearted Woman and Whipping Post.
Idlewild South (7⁄10), released in 1970, is essentially more of the same. Although the band are on fine form on Midnight Rider (later a hit for Paul Davidson and Willie Nelson, as well as a Gregg Allman solo hit) and the atmospheric Hoochie Coochie Man, true fame didn’t come their way until At Fillmore East (9⁄10) in ’71.
￼The music is timeless, but this is a bare-bones box set
If you really want to appreciate this immense live album, treat yourself to the six-CD The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings set, which includes an introduction from Billy Graham and a wigged-out, 35-minute version of Mountain Jam. In its original form, however, the Allmans’ first live LP is still a beauty, revealing how tight a unit the six-piece were, and how skilfully they were able to expand and jam on their songs. The 23-minute closer, Whipping Post, is still monolithic four decades later.
Duane Allman’s death in a motorcycle accident midway through the recording of 1972’s Eat A Peach (7⁄10) didn’t stop it from becoming a hit. The sentiments of Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Gregg’s lament for his late brother, may sit at odds with its jaunty nature, but it’s still a bravura performance, while Les Brers In A Minor, Betts’ textured instrumental, is a funk-heavy highlight.
Bassist Berry Oakley fell into depression and also lost his life in a motorbike crash in 1972. The band regrouped with a new line-up and released Brothers And Sisters (8⁄10) in ’73. Well-crafted and glistening with warm, mid-70s production, the songs stand up to this day, although the country influences were beginning to outweigh the blues. Ramblin’ Man is an Eagles-alike freeway tune, for example. Meanwhile, give Jessica a spin: yes, it’s the Top Gear theme tune.
So much for the music, which is largely timeless. How about the product? Well, this box set is as bare-bones as you get. All these albums are available on Spotify and YouTube, meaning no one under 30 will buy them for anything other than playing in the car, assuming anyone of that age group has even heard of The Allman Brothers. Absent liner notes and bonus tracks don’t help, and the £23.99 price tag is pretty hefty given the basic nature of the box. So why buy?