The two CD ‘Deluxe Edition’ of the Allman Brothers Band’s Idlewild South achieves what so very few such archive titles accomplish: placing the original work in a context that illuminates the artist’s evolution. Arguably the finest studio recordings this iconic Southern band ever completed are further refined in this package by remastering that also benefits the concert that’s appended to them, Live at Ludlow Garage.
Presented in its entirety for the first time, with the inclusion of a fifteen-minute plus version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” the concert documents a phase of the ABB’s career similar to the rough and tumble sound of their debut album, one from which they were beginning to emerge as they worked in the studio under the wizened tutelage of Tom Dowd. This very esteemed of producers (who was supposed to oversee that first studio work and would retain the role on the landmark live record, At Fillmore East), captured much of the spontaneity of the group’s well-honed musicianship even as he added both polish and depth in working at both Capricorn and Criteria studios: his restrained touch is evident even in the spare approach he takes to Gregg Allman’s soul balladry “Please Call Home,” but even more so in the multi-layered arrangement of “Revival.”
It’s significant that tune of Dickey Betts’ is the opening cut on the record. The emergence of the guitarist as a composer aided in no small part to turn this, ABB’s second studio album, into a milestone work for the band. Such numbers brought country elements into greater prominence within the rough and tumble blues-rock style on the Allmans’ debut, and such contributions (foreshadowing the widely-popular “Ramblin’ Man” of 1973) also had an influence on Gregg Allman, who had been to that point the main writer in the group: the vividly descriptive images of “Midnight Rider” find reflection in a layered arrangement with acoustic guitars that renders the twirling electric break more compelling.
As John Lynskey recounts in an essay wisely peppered with pertinent chronological details, this 45th Anniversary reissue includes studio outtakes,which although two have been released before on the massive Dreams box of 1989, benefit from placement in context here as much as the live set. Except perhaps that it hearkens too clearly to the sound of the debut album, it’s otherwise difficult to discern the shortfalls of this take of what was becoming the Allmans’ signature song, “Statesboro Blues.” A Gregg/Dickey collaboration, “One More Ride” is obviously redundant as an instrumental but sounds like perfect fodder for more refinement, while this alternate “Midnight Rider” doesn’t quite capture the haunting quality of the chosen take simply because, with percussion and dobro, it’s too busy.
Effectively rendering obsolete the 1990 edition of Live At Ludlow Garage this expanded setlist further distinguishes this show from other archival releases of the original ABB lineup. It includes the one solo vocal from Duane Allman, on John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples,” as well as a blues number, “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” subsequently dropped from regular rotation as the Allman Brothers continued to hone their collective musicianship into the juggernaut as document on their landmark live album. Most important of all however, on this soaring opening version of “Dreams,” the slightly improved audio quality, shorn of excessive high end, allows the intricacy of Butch Trucks’ and Jaimoe’s double drumming to become more readily apparent, particularly as it fuses with Berry Oakley’s aggressive basswork
And while that bottom register isn’t that much more prominent, or graced with real presence in the mix either, the harmonies Allman and Betts coax from their fretboards alternately sing and sting, never more clearly in contrast than on the restored ”’Liz Reed” or the near-three quarters of an hour devoted to “Mountain Jam;” hearkening directly to their roots in the blues.
Finishing touches on this deluxe (named after a bucolic Southern retreat rented by the Brothers in their early days) include period photos and detailed credits, the sum of which more than makes up for the slightly kitschy color scheme of the booklet and the somewhat bland overall graphics that prevent this package from looking and sounding like a true collectors item. But then the Allman Brothers Band never traded much in cosmetic appearances, so this double disc set, on its own terms, constitutes an ever-so-accurate accurate representation of a band passing through a creative crossroads and, as such, is essential entry into their discography.