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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Allman Brothers Band: Enlightened Rogues


1) Crazy Love; 2) Can't Take It With You; 3) Pegasus; 4) Need Your Love So Bad; 5) Blind Love; 6) Try It One More Time; 7) Just Ain't Easy; 8) Sail Away.

Leavell and Lamarr kept their promise, never returning to Gregg's side. The cynics will certainly want to point out that the two were just too pleased with their own free lives as bandleaders of Sea Level to consider a reunion that would once again relegate them to the status of sideplayers. On the other hand, Dickey Betts' latest solo album from 1978 stalled at #151 on the charts, quite a drop from #30 for its 1977 predecessor — there was your strong incentive to bury the hatchet and rearm oneself with the magic moniker of The Allman Brothers.

Recruiting David Goldflies on bass, Gregg and Dickey managed to make peace with the dynamic drumming duo, and also decided to return to the dual guitar lineup instead of continuing to rely on the piano. However, the addition of Dan Toler on second axe by no means makes the situation comparable to the golden days of Dickey/Duane. Most likely, Toler is responsible for some of the solo passages on Enlightened Rogues, but his style is so similar to Betts' that only a serious ex­pert could tell the difference, particularly since the emphasis is never placed on interplay between the two guitarists (but neither was it the same way in the Dickey/Duane period, when the two gui­tarists used to prefer competition over collaboration, over nobody's objections).

Much more important, perhaps, is the return of legendary Tom Dowd as producer: having recor­ded most of their stuff from Idlewild South to Eat A Peach, the man did not participate in the band's fortunes since Duane's death, but now he has been re-recruited to provide a much desired shot in the arm. It could fail, but it worked: Rogues is the Allmans' finest collective effort since Brothers & Sisters, and they really haven't been as good after it, at least, not until the unexpec­ted rejuvenation with Derek Trucks.

Not that there's anything different. The formula stays the same: unimaginative bluesy Southern rockers, mixed with even less imaginative Southern country ballads and one traditionally long All­man Brothers Instrumental™. But the rockers really do rock, providing all the sharpness, agg­ression, and spirit that you expect from rockers; the ballads are suitably ambitious, designed to soar rather than drag; and the instrumental may not be genius, but is certainly blameless. Consi­dering how sharply they went down from this record to the very next one, released but a year la­ter, it is hardly a coincidence that the only difference in lineup between there and here was the pre­sence of Dowd at the mixing controls.

'Pegasus', the instrumental, is sort of like a gentleman's compromise between 'Jessica' and 'High Falls'. In terms of atmosphere, it emulates the latter's romantic, dreamy, slightly otherworldly qua­lities, but moves along at a faster pace and never drags: its seven and a half minutes are timed perfectly, unlike the overkill fourteen minutes of 'Falls'. The main theme is a folksy little beauty, very much reflecting Betts' vision, even if it may be a bit difficult to make it convey images of flying horses (the Allmans, after all, had their feet planted way too firmly on the ground, especial­ly after Duane's demise); and there are a few curious twists, like the «looped», vortex-like guitar phrasing in the coda, that hint at the band's ongoing search for new combinations of sounds (very modest, but nobody probably expected even that).

Meanwhile, 'Crazy Love' and 'Can't Take It With You' rock like crazy — the former may smell a bit of barroom atmosphere, but the latter is a gritty, bristling number that wouldn't have been out of place on a Fillmore East concert; Betts lashes out with the same sort of fluent, emotive solos that make such a gas out of 'Ramblin' Man', but switches the controls from «happy» to «pissed off», and my only complaint is that the song fades out over his accumulating steam — that final solo part should have been streamlined into jam mode. Another song with terrific guitar work is Gregg's ballad 'Just Ain't Easy', which could have been just another pleasant, lazy Gregg ballad, but for which Betts has found enough time to elevate it to near-epic status.

Occasional complaints have been voiced over the addition of female backup voices on 'Crazy Love' (Bonnie Bramlett) and 'Sail Away' (Mimi Hart), but they are used very moderately — un­less one shares the misogynistic view that female voices on Southern rock albums automatically turn them into, uh, «Southern Rock Albums», there is nothing to worry about. Enlightened Ro­gues is no more or less specifically «Southern» than Brothers & Sisters — it respects a particu­lar paradigm of music-making without glorifying it. These rogues, after all, are enlightened: they know that Southern-accented singing and Southern-style playing alone won't be enough to restore Southern reputation. It also helps to make a good record, and on Enlightened Rogues, there's na­ry a bad song to be found, even if nothing rises to particularly spectacular heights. Thumbs up.

Check "Enlightened Rogues" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Enlightened Rogues" (MP3) on Amazon

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