Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Allman Brothers Band- Idlewild South

To me any mention of Southern Rock and instantly I refer to the Allman Brothers Band, they were the pioneers of a powerful mix of blues, soul and country that was representative of the deep south. The Allman Brothers were also the first band to stay strong to their southern roots opening the doors for the likes of Lynrd Skynrd to proudly proclaim their southern heritage without interference from record companies who held unkind views of the south.

The Allman Brothers had a unique approach to their music, inspired by the jazz legacy of artists like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane the band allowed room for improvisation and lengthy jams that illustrated their immense individual talents. Duane Allman was a pronounced jazz fan having sessioned with the likes of Herbie Mann, King Curtis and Charles Lloyd and his solos had an amazing conciseness whilst also pushing harmonic boundaries not explored by a lot of blues guitarists at that time. He was assisted by a rhythm section featuring two brilliant drummers, Jai Johanny Johanson  had cut his teeth playing with soul greats like Otis Redding and Joe Tex. He had the open fluency of a jazz drummer with those crisp Elvin Jones style rolls, he was also very percussive featuring on congas etc. Butch Trucks was also influenced by the jazz tradition and was rock solid in his rhythmic foundation. Berry Oakley to me you hear him at his best on the Live at the Fillmore East album you can hear is very frenetic bass style. Dickie Betts bought the country sensibility to the Allman Bros with his dexterous finger picking. Greg Allman had the throat and a funky keyboard style he was also in the early days of the band their principal songwriter.

Idlewild South was the band's second studio album and there was considerable pressure as their debut album had not been a big success. Through constant touring the band were beginning to build a considerable following, the band were insistent on remaining close to their southern base. Most of the songs for the album had been written at farmhouse they rented just outside Macon Georgia that they dubbed Idlewild South. When it came to recording the album the band were keen to utilise their manager Phil Walden's Capricorn studio in Macon, however famed Atlantic records producer Tom Dowd preferred the Atlantic facility at Criteria studios in Miami. It took five month for the album to be completed with the band shoehorning in sessions between live shows between February and July 1970. The album was released in September 1970 and reached #38 on the U.S album chart.

The album kicks off with the gospel tinged Revival, which actually started out as an instrumental before lyrics and vocals were added just prior to recording. It's a song that seems to capture the times a growing sense of needing to reconnect with something strong and reliable, like the love of a community. This was something that the Allmans were trying to build in Macon. Instantly you recognise from the opening the confidence in the musicianship, the easy interplay between the two lead guitarists and the rock solid rhythm section. Don't Keep Me Wonderin would gain greater fame as part of their Fillmore East live album the following year, that whining opening guitar riff is present in the studio version before the band shuffle that beat along. The classic Midnight Rider summed up the bands image at the time, road warriors and outlaws of the south. There is a nice acoustic overdub from Duane Allman and some nice vocal harmony work from Oakley. Side one closes with a hint of what this band was about to become, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed was constructed along the lines of a jazz song. Spaced out soloing but always coming back to a meeting point, Betts shows of his great bluegrass style finger picking, he was the master of the fluid playing style everytime the song would come to a bridge Betts would play this country style lick that was the perfect conduit for Allman to take of in another direction.

Their version of the Muddy Waters classic Hoochie Coochie Man is wonderfully dishevelled with some fierce drumming work and some blasting guitar work. It also features a rare vocal performance from Berry Oakley who demonstrates a powerful vocal ability. Please Call Home a Greg Allman original is a more contemplative soulful song with Duane at his most haunting and sorrowful. Leave My Blues at Home is some raw southern funk, heavily influenced by the syncopated work of James Brown matched with the swampy blues of Muscle Shoals. There are many who tend to neglect The Allman Bros studio output, they have been shackled with their reputation as a fearsome live act and in some ways that detracts from their solid early studio output.

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