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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Allman Brothers Band: Peakin' At The Beacon


1) Don't Want You No More; 2) It's Not My Cross To Bear; 3) Ain't Wastin' Time No More; 4) Every Hungry Wo­man; 5) Please Call Home; 6) Stand Back; 7) Black Hearted Woman; 8) Leave My Blues At Home; 9) Seven Turns; 10) High Falls.

Obviously, the new-look Allmans' winning streak could not last forever — this band, after all, was tailor-made for «slings and arrows» from the very beginning. No sooner had they released the blistering 2nd Set that even won them a Grammy for 'Jessica' (twenty-three years after the ori­ginal recording!) than Warren Haynes and Allen Woody left the band in order to be engaged full-time in their new band, Gov't Mule. Guitarist Jack Pearson and bass player Oteil Burbridge came in as their replacements, but only Burbridge survived; Pearson made his exit in 1999 (so that nobody except for staunch concert-goers even has any idea of what he sounded like), to be replaced by young prodigy Derek Trucks, Butch's nephew and, coincidentally, one of the finest slide guitar players to emerge in the past twenty years.

Just as this new lineup was about to stabilize, however, the band shocked everyone by firing Di­ckey — by fax, no less. To this very day, no one is truly sure about what happened. Maybe he did have a renewed problem with «substances», as the other band members sometimes insinuate, or maybe he just happened to make a dirty joke about Cher at the wrong time and in the wrong place. Fact is, that Peakin' At The Beacon, the Allmans' last contribution to the world of art in the 20th century, is their very last album to feature founding father Richard Betts. Everything else is spe­culation, no matter what the culprits and the victims pronounce themselves.

The release of the album has, however, frequently puzzled fans and critics alike. For one thing, it was released already after the firing of Betts — and, considering that the alleged major reason be­hind it was the extremely poor playing shape in which he had been in for some time, such a move could only be seen as sort of a half-hearted justification for the fans: «Wanna know why we fired the guy? Just listen to this!» For another thing, the sound quality is pretty poor — certainly better than audience bootleg quality, but nowhere near the perfect mix and sharpness of the 1st and 2nd sets. Not to wonder — the band, once again, parted ways with Tom Dowd (for reasons of his health, probably, since two years later he died of emphysema), but why produce a record yourself if you know for sure this is going to sabotage your high standards?

Peakin' At The Beacon is, therefore, for near-objective reasons, one of the least essential live ABB records to hunt for. It has some historical importance as the one and only album on which ancient guitar legend Dickey Betts and rising guitar hero Derek Trucks have played together. Un­fortunately, this historical importance can hardly be converted into pure-hearted enjoyment, beca­use (a) Betts is clearly not at the top of his game here: at worst, he does indeed play in a wretch­ed­ly awful manner (the solo on 'Ain't Wastin' Time No More' feels like it is coming from a man who hasn't picked up his guitar in twenty years or so and is re-learning the scales as they go), and at best, he is doing merely okay, with­out any of the jaw-dropping ecstatic moments scattered throughout the previous two albums; (b) Trucks, on the other hand, more often than not sticks in the background, feeling, perhaps, a little shy about outplaying the Grand Old Master, and when he actually takes a solo, it is always muf­fled by poor engineering. At best, there are only tiny hints here at the greatness to come.

Not even the cleverly composed setlist saves things: most of the tracks avoid repetition from the previous two sets, as they concentrate almost exclusively on numbers from the first three studio albums, throwing in a limp 'Seven Turns' (Dickey's farewell tune!) and choosing 'High Falls', this time around, as the obligatory instrumental showcase, with lengthy drum and bass solos (actually, Burbridge's bit of bass improvising — he even bursts into a little scat accompaniment at one point — is the album's only exciting surprise). Still, the performances never rise above barely compe­tent, and who needs «barely competent» from the Brothers?

In short, the album title is grossly misleading: nobody's doing any «peakin'». Dickin' At The Bea­con would be a much better title (but I guess it would have hurt Betts' feelings even further). There was hardly any need to disgrace the reputation of their annual Beacon Theater shows which the band became famous for ever since its 1989 reunion and which have lasted all the way down to 2009, after which they were expelled to make way for the Cirque du Soleil (!). By all means, one to skip unless you are a trusty historiographer — the Allmans have so many live records out that you can certainly allow yourself the choice. Thumbs down.

Check "Peakin' At The Beacon" (CD) on Amazon

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