ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: EAT A PEACH (1972)
Duane's sudden passing pretty much ended the Allmans' hopes of conquering the world. He may not have been God, but he had a far broader vision than any of the remaining band members: neither brother Gregg nor chief competitor Betts saw any dire necessity in breaking out of the «Southern» mold, and although both were capable of continuing to make good music, no longer would it try to be transcendental. Perhaps God was afraid of Duane, after all, requisiting him for his own barroom band with Jimi on first guitar.
In the meantime, though, the «Allman Brothers Band» (I am sure they had their reasons for continuing to use that name) still had enough material left to shape out a proper swan song for their original incarnation. This included, for one thing, plenty of live leftovers from the Fillmore concerts; for another, some session work done in September 1971 with Duane still alive at the Criteria Studios in Miami. Padding it out with a few tracks recorded post-Duane (but which could still bear his serious influence), the Allmans came out with another absolute winner in all respects — starting with the appetizing album sleeve and the title, stemming from Duane's famously friendly-cynical remark of «There ain't no revolution, it's evolution, but every time I'm in Georgia I eat a peach for peace».
The Fillmore outtakes can be problematic, for sure. Few people have any problems with 'One Way Out', a fast blues-rocker in the vein of 'You Don't Love Me', or with the grinding version of 'Trouble No More' that fully stands up against its studio counterpart, but it may be a different story with 'Mountain Jam', an improvisatory piece so long that it took a whoppin' two LP sides to fit it in (originally — the second and the fourth, but the CD version naturally reinstated the correct playing sequence).
Essentially, everything I said in the earlier review about the Allmans' improvisational principles holds out for 'Mountain Jam' as well. In order to appreciate it better, it may be a good idea to listen to Donovan's hit single 'There Is A Mountain' first — one of those will-o-wispy rose-coloured flute-based hippie fantasies the mid-Sixties were so easy to deride for, but the Allmans latch on to it and expand its childishly optimistic spark into a full-fledged joyful celebration: thirty-three minutes of pure musical happiness. Obviously, some of the lead work gets recycled, and the obligatory drum solo is obligatorily tedious (although the Allmans at least have two drummers going on at the same time, which makes things slightly more interesting), but this is not simply aimless jamming for the sake of killing time — this is the brothers' way of explaining about peace and love, it simply takes time to say everything they want to say about it.
However, it is hardly incidental that Eat A Peach opens with the Duane-less material: as much as it is a tribute to their fallen friend, it also indicates clearly that the band has no intention of stopping. Betts' 'Les Brers In A Minor', in particular, is a complex, intelligent instrumental that, unfortunately, could not be matched by anything similar for the rest of the decade: its combination of a three-minute chaotic intro, a basic organ/guitar theme that stands out as one of the band's catchiest melodies, and a jam section that borrows far more from Santana than Southern rock, is still as fresh today as ever.
Brother Gregg's compositions, the slide rocker 'Ain't Wastin' Time No More' (which may sound like a hastily taken vow in the light of brother Duane's misfortune, but was actually written before the accident), and the country-folk ballad 'Melissa', are more in line with the formulaic Southern stuff that was to dominate the band's sound after 1972, but both are nevertheless first-rate, and Betts' ethereal guitar work on 'Melissa' defines beauty.
The studio numbers with Duane are cunningly placed on side three — side four on today's CD version — so that nobody could have the temptation to skip the Duane-less tracks; only once you have come to terms with the idea that The Allman Brothers can have a musical future despite the illusory nature of the plural marker, you are permitted, as a bonus, to taste the last taste of Duane's playing on such elegant numbers as 'Blue Sky', a rare example of an actual guitar duet between Duane and Dickey (they usually avoided crossing their different styles at the same time), and Duane's tiny acoustic flourish, 'Little Martha', a humbly fitting end to the album.
There are times when I am close to believing that this, indeed, is the moment where it all comes together for the Allmans (especially since I have learned to fall under the charm of 'Mountain Jam') — Eat A Peach is as much an honorary tribute to Duane's memory as it is a promise of a great artistic future, and for an album written under such a dark shadow, it is almost like a pillar of optimism: with visions of heavenly bliss and calm all over 'Melissa', 'Blue Sky', and 'Mountain Jam', ironically, it could almost be inferred that the brothers, starting out in the utmost anguish and despair with their self-titled album, have finally found the peace and love they were only hinting at earlier. In reality, they found death — turmoil — confusion — more death, with bassist Berry Oakley eerily suffering the same accident as Duane one year later — more turmoil and pain — but little, if any, of that is showing on Eat A Peach, as if this concentration on inner peace and self-contention was their aggressive reply to life. So it's not just enjoyable, it's also intriguing; and how often is «Southern rock», good or bad, found to be intriguing? Rare enough to keep the listener's thumbs up all the way through.
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