In the steamy New York City summer of 1971, The Allman Brothers Band was riding high. Their marathon live concerts filled with soul igniting jams were becoming legendary around the country, built upon the sabre-crossing twin guitar attacks of founding members Duane Allman, slide guitar wizard, and Dickey Betts, who would become had become one of the crucial composers for the band as well, as well as the soulful, aged-whiskey vocals of Duane’s brother Gregg Allman. Their blues soaked song catalog was often infused with flourishes of hard bop jazz or baroque classical, creating a musical concoction that was so potent and riveting that the nation could hardly resist.
1971 is, of course, the year that The Allman Brothers Band recorded and released their legendary live album, At Fillmore East, that made them true national stars and musical heroes. It was also, tragically, the year that the band would lose its unofficial captain and one of its chief creative and vital forces, slide guitarist Duane Allman. In a year filled with both triumph and tragedy for the southern-rock jam-band juggernaut, I am firmly of the belief that you can never have too much.
So it is with great pleasure to me that the band just released a brand new album from that year, The Allman Brothers Band Live from A&R Studios, New York, August 26, 1971. The recording date of this album is only approximately one month past the momentous release of At Fillmore East and displays a flawless and eminently soulful band, tapped into musical powers that are absolutely extraordinary.
If the show has a negative, it’s that the setlist is only 9 songs long. But when you have songs as magical and mystical as these, well, that’s still plenty amazing enough. The set is actually strikingly similar to At Fillmore East, although there are a few notable differences, including the absence of the epic in length and breadth anthem “Whipping Post” on A&R Studios, as well as the inclusion of Allman Brothers Band classic “One Way Out”, originally by Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James.
“One Way Out” is a particularly gripping performance of the song, here with an incisive, cutting solo by Dickie Betts. There’s also a brief interplay between Duane Allman and Betts that’s short but sizzles, and the song is lead, of course, by Gregg Allman’s honey-whiskey vocals. The song “One Way Out” itself was originally written and recorded by James and Williamson II in the early-mid 1960s. However, the effort was not exactly collaborative. Elmore James initially recorded the song in the very early 1960s but did not release it. It was then re-worked and re-recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson II for Chess Records in September, 1961. He would release another version of the song in 1963 that featured blues guitar hero Buddy Guy getting in some early work on the track. The latter version was essentially the one adapted by The Allman Brothers Band in arrangement. The Elmore James version was finally released in 1965, but by that time the song had become basically synonymous with Sonny Boy Williamson II. The Allman Brothers would release a live version of the song from The Fillmore East on their follow-up studio album to At Fillmore East, Eat a Peach.
The epic “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” is a breathtaking 11:23 minute long journey through a tour de force instrumental performance filled to the brim with electricity and vitality. Much of this light and heat is generated by the fine-tuned guitar playing of Dicky Betts, who composed the instrumental piece as well. As an Allman Brothers Band fan, I definitely think it’s true that sometimes Betts gets overlooked due to the incredible virtuosity of Duane Allman, but Betts is no slouch on the guitar either and he demonstrates his considerable skill here. Gregg Allman takes a sweet, jazzy organ solo on this cut as well, winding and twisting, while Berry Oakley spirals around his lines and the rhythm grooves forward thanks to the impeccable drumming of Butch Trucks and Jaimoe. Around 6 minutes into the 11:24 minute odyssey slide maestro Duane takes over, working the slide like a wizard of blues-rock. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” is a musical extravaganza and a pure joy to listen to.
The T-Bone Walker number “Stormy Monday” is up next and clocks in at 8:49. With lyrics like:
They call it Stormy Monday
But Tuesday’s just as bad.
They call it Stormy Monday
But Tuesday’s just as bad.
Lord, and Wednesday’s worse
And Thursday’s all so sad
The Allman Brothers Ban’s pain is our gain. Gregg’s voice is tailor-made to float this tune, with a gentle bed of guitar and organ maintaining a loose, evocative atmosphere about the song. The guitar soloing really begins to ignite the sparks about 4 1/2 minutes into this bluesy jam, and then suddenly the rhythm section kicks it into a high-gear swing-jazz groove as Gregg Allman tears it up on his organ. Blues-rock at its true finest right here, folks.
All in all, the set is a wonderful musical journey through a major, perhaps the greatest peak of The Allman Brothers stunning musical career. The playing is sharp and crisp, the solos are hot, the singing is passionate, and the work as a whole leaves no doubt that this is one of the great bands of classic rock in the prime of their careers. Highest recommendations to anyone who loves The Allman Brothers Band, southern rock, classic rock, blues-rock, blues, guitar, or just plain excellent music to listen to this one, I give. Amazing band. Signing out.