The Allman Betts Band
The short version of this album review is: brilliant! Go out and buy/download it etc. immediately!
Being the son of a famous musician doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be any good with an instrument or avoid having a tin ear, but in the case of Devon Allman, son of Gregg Allman, and Duane Betts, son of Allman Brothers’ guitarist Dicky Betts, the apples have fallen very close to the tree, and despite this being a debut album, this fine collection of songs display a real maturity; while sounding as fresh as any contemporary Blues influenced record, it also manages to sound like it could have been recorded sometime during the early to mid-70’s. It helps that the songs were recorded down at Muscle Shoals on analogue equipment, to give them additional authenticity.
Each song is a gem and opener ‘All Night’ sets the standard for what follows. A Southern voice intones “1, 2, 3, 4” and a really cool chordal riff comes in - somewhere between the Stones and the Heartbreakers - as a descending guitar line links the chorus to the solo - which is a nimbly played, lyrical collection of notes, rather than a fret wang. This is a powerful and catchy number, the sort that fans will go mental over when they hear the opening riff blast out of the speakers (it’s got live opener written all over it).
Filling out the sound is some excellent keyboard work. The keys are superb on every track, not surprising when you learn that the Hammond is being played by Peter Levin, who performed that role with Gregg Allman, and that legendary keyboardist Chuck Leavell, is also featured throughout. It’s in the bands’ DNA, so not surprising that the sound as well as the spirit of the Allman Brothers abounds this album (the AB connection is also cemented by having bassist Berry Duane Oakley on board, son of founding Brother Berry Oakley). Second track ‘Shinin’” opens up with the trademark Allman’s twin guitar attack and then chunders along in full boogie mode, with slide guitar filling in every available moment. ‘Try’, a slower number, features some distinctive backing vocals on the chorus and lovely melodic guitar motif.
The opening languid notes of ‘Autumn Breeze’ are so Allman Brothersesque it’s ridiculous, when halfway through there is an extended section with two fat guitars playing in melodic unison, leading onto a beautiful solo as the band kick it out in the background. It’s like being in a time machine, only requiring the accompaniment of a 1930’s Disney short cartoon and the voice of Whispering Bob to sign it off. This is not to say that the Allman Betts band are mere revivalists; they don’t shy away from their collective musical roots, which you can hear, clear as an Alabama day, but have, in writing a fine collection of songs (with the assistance of songwriter Stoll Vaughan) created something fresh and interesting.
‘Melodies Are Memories’ again sounds like classic era Allman Brothers, with its fluid, limpid and quite lovely slide guitar throughout, and combination of jaunty Country beat interspersed with dynamic crescendos. A version of Tom Petty’s ‘Southern Accents’ is a standout track and reminds you of what a good songwriter the lamented Heartbreaker was as well as highlighting the really strong vocals on display.
It’s really hard to define individual musical preferences, but for me this album hits all the right spots; there are only nine songs in this debut collection but it’s definitely quality over quantity: great songs, great vocals and great guitar playing; one of the albums of the year.