ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: REACH FOR THE SKY (1980)
In 1980, The Allman Brothers said goodbye to Capricorn and signed on with Arista — same year that the label also got Aretha Franklin. Unfortunately, in both cases, the record company, whose biggest achievement would soon consist of making a star out of Whitney Houston, wasn't quite sure about what to do with these has-beens. Saddled with a pair of unimaginative hackjob producers and somehow outliving the emotional reunion spark that made Enlightened Rogues such a nice treat for long-term fans, the band sort of put itself on autopilot.
Reach For The Sky is not awful, but it is even more of a generic Southern rock album than Win, Lose Or Draw; it certainly does not take the golden legend of the Allman Brothers to come up with that kind of result. One by one, Betts is constructing simple, catchy, danceable boogie tunes that have their little fun quotient: 'Angeline' actually managed to become a minor hit single, nearly making it into the Top 50, and most of the other rockers have their singalong charms, too, except they all spell «local barroom».
But it is quite telling that his major misfire is the obligatory instrumental: 'From The Madness Of The West' is officially the first of these that makes no point whatsoever. From 'Elizabeth Reed' to 'Pegasus', all of these numbers had an evocative, dreamy quality, sometimes weaker, sometimes stronger, but always purposeful. These particular six and a half minutes, however, sound like a very lame attempt at crossing blues-rock with fusion, a genre that they could have, perhaps, stomached were Duane still alive, but Dickey's and Gregg's abilities alone do not suffice. So they incorporate boring, amateurish synthesizer solos (yes!), a main theme completely devoid of atmosphere, and a longer than usual drum solo to cover up their asses (if there is a pair of guys in this band to never let anyone down, it's the drummer boys). What were all those Betts fantasy worlds doing at the moment? Eclipsed by the new record contract?
Of Gregg's two contributions, only 'So Long' works on the level of his past successes in Southern melancholia; his lazy ballads may or may not be your favourite piece of the Allmans' legacy, but at least they have forever remained its most stable part. Something tells me that this is the sole song on here that could have received Duane's stamp of approval; unfortunately (but predictably) it is merely the album closer, and impatient people might not live long enough to enjoy it.
If you are an avid collector of stereotypical blues-boogie records that neither say anything new nor anything awful, of which there have been thousands upon thousands of releases in the 1970s alone, Reach For The Sky belongs in your collection. If you happen to be Cher, Chuck Leavell, or Derek Trucks, it also belongs in your collection through former or future professional obligation. Otherwise, feel free to skip, although I refrain from giving it an explicit thumbs down.
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