THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: WHERE IT ALL BEGINS (1994)
1) All Night Train; 2) Salin' 'Cross The Devil's Sea; 3) Back Where It All Begins; 4) Soulshine; 5) No One To Run With; 6) Change My Way Of Living; 7) Mean Woman Blues; 8) Everybody's Got A Mountain To Climb; 9) What's Done Is Done; 10) Temptation Is A Gun.
Third time around and the revitaminized formula, smart as it is, is starting to wear a little thin. From a formal point of view, this is still completely impeccable. The rockers roar, the ballads weep, the players put up a hundred percent. But then there is also the matter of that little checkmark in the «Innovative» box on the Allman Brothers Band's info tab. If a band like the Allmans ceases to experiment and develop, it inevitably becomes a generic Southern rock band, and there is only so much blessed earth on the planet to make room for another Black Oak Arkansas.
Not that they don't do anything new, but the forward steps are infuriatingly tiny and, moreover, rather hit-and-miss. For instance, the band's first attempt at writing a song based on the Bo Diddley beat ('No One To Run With') is misguided — they don't have a knack for good-time dance music like that, not to mention that six minutes of dum-de-dum-dum, dum-dum is a physiologically damaging experience. Much better is their subtle toying with modern guitar sounds on Betts' 'Mean Woman Blues', as they transform a standard blues-rocker into something that would not be out of place on a latter day Jeff Beck record — the result is a tough, aggressive howler that rocks harder and heavier than almost anything else ever recorded by the band. Alas, it's just one track, although I admit that a whole handful of these would have shifted the band's profile way too drastically; besides, it's not like the modern blues-rock scene were in a real big need of yet another «metallizing» act — there's plenty of diversity as is.
The rest is fairly good on its own terms, but too many songs rehash too many recent feelings. The slow burn of 'Temptation Is A Gun' is a shadow of 'Gambler's Roll'; 'Back Where It All Begins', with its long happy jam section, is another of Betts' optimistic country-rock anthems that can never hope to replace 'Jessica'; and most of the four-to-five minute songs are just another bunch of well-played, nicely-felt blues-rockers that are perfectly enjoyable but generally undescribable.
Only 'Soulshine', written by Haynes and later exported by him into the repertoire of his own band (Gov't Mule), has more or less endured as a standard. It is a bit too power-balladeerish for my tastes, a bit too overtly pathetic for its own good, and a bit too clichéd lyrically for those who have already assembled a big enough collection of «When I Was Just A Little Boy, My Daddy Sat Me On His Knee»-type songs. What is not clichéd is Haynes' guitar-playing, which makes the song a spiritual tour-de-force so much more efficiently than all the other ingredients — the tune starts cooking right from the intro and never really lets go.
No particular individual is to be blamed for the little whiff of stagnation that emanates from the record — the worst songs on here do not have any individual stamp of poor quality, and the best ones show that all of the songwriters were trying quite hard. But perhaps it is not all that lamentable, after all, that the next ABB studio album only arrived in the wake of the final sacking of Betts: with this sort of tendency, new studio ventures desperately called for fresh blood. Where It All Begins is still strong enough to merit a solid thumbs up; I gotta agree, however, that its title is tremendously deceptive from all points of view. Fortunately, renaming it to Where It All Ends is equally out of the question, no matter how happy it could have made Dickey.
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