As his time on Earth ran out, Gregg Allman insisted that he wanted to record an album reflecting on his life and influences, at the studio where HourGlass and Allman Bros records had been made. In a subsequent piece we shall bring you my chat in London with manager Michael Lehman who can tell the full story of this recording and Gregg’s last days. Suffice to say that this record is a masterclass in sophisticated earthy music, played with friends..I guess, for all friends. And family, so many of whom are musical creatives.
My Only True Friend coasts into a melodic song with the twinned guitar element to the fore and then that weathered voice, spliced with amp-tremelo’d guitar slivers. The lyric dwells on what the future might bring, the ‘friend’ being The Road. This number aches and soothes. All part of his gift, I guess.
Once I Was is an easy-going acoustic-guitar led reminiscence. The closest in composition that Tim Buckley got to pastoral Neil Young. Oh, that sax ! A lovely arrangement, here. Greg Leisz adds pedal steel on this cut and elsewhere. Going Going Gone brings us in on dobro and is the lesser-known Dylan song given the full Georgia backdrop, here. Relaxed and poignant, it brings a lump to the throat. The noble drumming is just right and the bass notes wander up the neck with a troubadour’s confidence.
Black Muddy River evokes people just playing on a porch. Maybe the most poetic lyric here and beautifully delivered. Is it just me but is the presence of Levon Helm and Rick Danko lurking in here ? In some ways kindred spirits, surely. I Love The Life I Live is the Willie Dixon evergreen and a pointed choice. Eventually free of his demons, Allman could indeed savour the best of life and moreover enjoy his friends and family. Reverbed guitar and barroom piano with a spirited Allman vocal with a pinch of delay on the mike. Heavy loping blues and exciting with it. The subterranean sax runs make the feet tap away.
If there is a song that needs to really breathe, it must surely be Lowell George’s bittersweet acceptance of life’s basics, Willin’ and here a light tread is the ticket, singing being a straight reading. That gorgeous steel floats overhead like a lost crow.
Blind Bats & Swamp Rats is a song I originally heard on one of my favourite blues albums ever, being the Capricorn release Ton Ton Macoute by one-time Otis Redding Band singer Johnny Jenkins. The musicians on that album include guitar man Pete Cosey and many of the Allman Bros including Duane and it is packed with exciting and original arrangements with a huge dose of shadowy voodoo. This version isn’t far from that Jenkins one and the song bubbles away to create a misty atmosphere, all riddled with percussion. The band hit the middle eight on the button, with horn splashes. Out Of Left Field is from Penn, Oldham and associates and of course it’s Southern Soul as it is meant to be, electric piano steady in the mix as the grainy horns attain a soft ensemble sound. Gregg sings this as though it’s the only song that matters, a remarkable performance.
Love Like Kerosene is a sprightly blues-rocker that pounds out of the speakers – an original by MD Scott Sharrard. A heady mix of bass, drums, guitars and Johnny Johnson style piano trills. And at @ 2:28 a nice guitar solo. Imagine The Red Devils heading South and you have it. Song For Adam brings pal Jackson Browne to the mike for a solemn acoustic guitar soaked almost hymnal tale. As heartfelt as a performance as you could desire. From both singers.
Very often, events imbue creations with great resonance. This aural tombstone of an album tells it like it is, was, ever shall be as regards this man’s legacy…
Feature Image Photo Credit: John Bull at Rockrpix
Gregg Allman’s eighth and final studio album ‘Southern Blood’ is out now on Rounder Records.