On the splendid live recording Back to Macon, GA Gregg Allman and his stellar eight-piece band offer a resounding statement of purpose. Concentrating on bonafide classics from the repertoire of the iconic Southern blues-rock band he helped found, The Allman Brothers, the younger sibling of the late Duane Allman lays claim to their legacy and does so distinctively and honorably .
Revelations arise from rearrangements of familiar tunes like the (not surprising) opener “Statesboro Blues.” With the jaunty horns giving way to authentic barrelhouse piano after Allman himself begins caterwauling over a sure shuffle, the tune’s blues roots couldn’t sound more authentic. Similar ABB standards appear here in suitably reworked arrangements: “Ain’t Wasting Time No More” is distinguished by the popping percussion of former Brother Marc Quinones and a sax solo of Art Edmaiston’s smartly accentuated with Scott Sharrard’s stirring slide guitar (he’s growing by leaps and bounds as an instrumentalist).
Meanwhile, “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,” a slightly less famous but no less distinctive cull from the second ABB album Idlewild South, becomes a tour-de-force of syncopation representative of the imagination involved in this project: the arrangement does justice in equal measure to the song itself and its storied past. “Whipping Post” is similarly re-imagined here, the playing of drummer Steve Potts and bassist Ron Johnson as prominent as that of the frontman on his Hammond B-3 organ. The drums/bass workout on the closer “One Way Out,” however, destroys the celebratory feel created to that point.
Throughout two CDs of tracks recorded in January 2014 at the intimate Grand Opera House In Macon GA, such well-known material is juxtaposed with a cross-section of selections from throughout Gregg Allman’s solo career. Adorned with graceful horns, the stately “Queen of Hearts” comes from the man’s initial album under his name, Laid Back, as does a take on “Midnight Rider” as spooky as that studio version. On Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” the bright sparkle of Ben Stivers’ electric piano offsets the world-weary tone of the tune (matched by Gregg’s voice) while Sharrard’s sharp but understated playing again adds accent. “I’m No Angel” ends up more autobiographical than it did when it debuted during the album-rock era of the Eighties, but “Just Before the Bullets Fly” remains pro-forma despite its authorship by Warren Haynes, founder of Gov’t Mule and veteran of twenty-pus years in the latter-day Allman Brothers lineup. “Love Like Kerosene,” from Sharrard’s own album, is similarly conventional to a fault, but it is, ironically, the best example here of how deeply engaged is Gregg Allman’s singing throughout Back to Macon.
Expansions of the repertoire include smart homage to Gregg Allman’s roots that reaffirm the notion that, as checkered as his own discography might be, he’s never wholly forgotten his influences. Ray Charles’ “Brightest Smile in Town” receives a collective loving touch from the band, while Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” is an expression of the frontman’s rowdy persona as much as a reclamation of his own history. The more traditional soul stylings of Wilson Pickett’s “I Found a Love” is that which originally distinguished Gregg Allman’s own projects from his work with The Brothers, a point given short shrift in John Lynskey’s superficial liner essay.
On the DVD/Blu-Ray packages, the abbreviated interview segments somewhat arbitrarily interwoven within all the performances on the CD’s (along with two extras in the form of “Stormy Monday” and “Floating Bridge” and a feature entitled “The Gregg Allman Band at the H&H”), offer a little more insight into the dynamics of this occasion (besides reaffirming how the streamlined stage presentation). But the fundamental value of this title lies in its acts of reinvention: for instance – as courageous as it is for Gregg Allman and his band to take on the instrumental “Hot ‘Lanta,” the number works because the ensemble is not only well-practiced, but inspired by the challenge in tackling a tune that, although a relatively obscure number from The Allman Brothers’ groundbreaking At Fillmore East live album, is nevertheless part of a storied past. Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon GA not only offers respect for that heritage, but delivers it – dramatically.
live photo by Leslie Michele Derrough