THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: SHADES OF TWO WORLDS (1991)
Compared to the regular 1990s standard for aging rockers, the time gap between Seven Turns and its follow-up was practically non-existent, and this could only mean one thing: the revamped Allmans were in tremendously high spirits and knew how to use 'em. Shades Of Two Worlds is, unquestionably, a rather rushed sequel: only eight songs, one of them a cover and one an extended jam the likes of which they'd usually reserve for the stage. But it does preserve the momentum, and shows that, even on autopilot, the new-look Allmans remained unbeatable.
In fact, in some respects Shades even improves on its predecessor. Most of the material is still written by Betts, either solo or in tandem with Haynes, but this time, he wisely avoids the softer, country-rock/pop side of the business and opts instead for all-out crunch. So, either they're doing slow, tormented, wailing blues, or rocking the roof off the building — none of that sentimental "seven turns on the highway, seven rivers to cross..." sappiness. Most of the album crackles in bright red colours, like the burning sunset on the album sleeve, all the way down to the closing Robert Johnson cover, which lands the ship softly in acoustic blues mood.
The decision to turn 'Nobody Knows' from a rhythmically tricky folk-blues rocker into a monster jam is questionable, but respectable; the whole experience sounds like a nostalgic nod to the old days of Duane and Dickey battling it out in semi-free-form mid-tempo mode on 'Whipping Post', and here, the Betts/Haynes duo really only loses to the way it used to be in terms of freshness — but the spirit and the technical mastery remain the same. Still, perhaps they should have saved it all for the upcoming live album, where this length would seem more natural.
On the other hand, the obligatory instrumental is an unassailable blast — 'Kind Of Bird' must be a reference to Charlie Parker, and there is a lot of jazz here indeed, as they substitute the idea of dreamy / psychedelic wordless music for one that involves less planning and calculating, more absolute freedom of expression. It could fail, as it so often does on jazz records, but, due to the band's determination and experience, it works. The opening part is all fast, furious, bop-influenced headbanging, the middle part defies genre classification, and the third part is free-form chaos à la 'Brers In A Minor' — most of the ingredients, in some form or other, they'd already shown us on earlier records, but this particular synthesis is brand new for the Allmans.
The individual songs are all written in strict accordance with formula; in the hands of a band of lesser caliber than the Allmans, much of this material, including all of Betts' rockers, could have sounded ugly, perhaps even moronically flatulent (imagine "I'm your midnight man, guranteed to love you like nobody can" in the hands of Foreigner!), but it is not the melodies, it is the tightness and the intelligent force of this big sound, and the clever interplay between Betts and Haynes, that carries most of them through. Gregg's 'Get On With Your Life', for instance, would be nothing if not for Haynes' lengthy Clapton-esque solo, slowly, predictably, and still admirably winding its way up, up, up, until it's joined by Betts' companion guitar and the two crash down in ecstasy. Another first is the guitarists' acoustic duel on 'Come On In My Kitchen' — the number finishes the record off on the same note as 'Pony Boy' put the final stop to Brothers And Sisters, but this time, we have a fun dialog going on, instead of Betts' mono spectacle.
For some reason, Shades Of Two Worlds, unlike Seven Turns, went out of print fairly quickly and is now hard to find in legal form (except for ultra-expensive import versions); this is hardly a major tragedy, but certainly a minor travesty that needs to be remedied. Thumbs up, in the vain hope that this might eventually help people treasure this part of the Allmans' legacy with all the respect it deserves.