Allman Brothers Band Give ‘Idlewild South’ Deluxe Treatment (ALBUM REVIEW)

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allmanidleThe 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.

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3 Responses

  1. 15 minutes of Elizabeth Reed???? Can’t wait to get my hands on that!!!!

    This past October I saw them…birthday gift from dear friend at lake Tahoe…Great show…but seriously missed Dickey….

  2. This was the finest Allman Brothers’ Band LP of all, most fully-realized, an indescribable joy from the first note to the last. I saw the brothers, in Houston, between their iconic Fillmore sets, in March and June 1971, preserved in their “At Fillmore East” album. The show itself was something to be dreamt of more than any of the hundreds I saw during the ’60s and ’70s. ZZ Top opened, with Billy Gibbons pulling out all the stops, duck-walking his best Chuck Berry, flinging riffs off with casual abandon, while Frank and Dusty keep the beat nailed to the floor for him. The Houston band had only just released their first LP, and wanted the hometown crowd to remember them fondly at the record store the next day. There was little doubt they would, as the trio powered through a blistering set. When the ABB took the stage, half an hour after ZZ left, Duane and Dicky seemed inspired by the pyrotechnics Gibbons had unleashed, and drove straight into their set, interweaving guitar lines and playing in perfect unison, through nearly all the songs from the new album, plus Dreams and Whipping Post from the first. Duane especially was on fire, firing off solo riffs to build on, as if there were an endless supply, fingering the delicate strains of “Midnight Rider” with finesse and grace, easily reminding everyone why Eric Clapton had invited him to the “Layla” sessions, as if it had been the most natural thing imaginable. As the last chords of “Whipping Post” died away, the hall seemed smaller somehow, diminished by the inherent power and majesty of the previous two hours featuring two of the best guitar-slingers in rock at the time. All this pomp and circumstance set the stage for Steve Miller, another Texas boy, to show his stuff. He came out swaggering, then quickly showed why he was equal to the task of following Duane and Billy anywhere they wanted to go. His “Number 5” album had been released five months earlier. and he was still a long ways from “Fly Like An Eagle” and it’s Top 40 sound. His guitar snarled, roared, cried, sang, as he plumbed the depths of everything he’d ever heard, reaching into his most distant memories, coming up with startling riffs that hung over the audience, before shattering into glistening droplets. By the time mandatory closing time for the hall arrived, the audience was wrung out, damp with sweat, hands blistered from applause (for all three bands), minds blown into thousands of shards, scattered from here to breakfast. We staggered out, into the night, surprised the apocalypse hadn’t arrived while we’d been locked away with the six-string magicians. Little more than three months later, came news that Duane had died, his guitar silenced forever, never again to sing those siren songs. It was senseless and gut-wrenching, only equaled when Berry died, a year later, in another senseless tragedy. The light had gone out of the band, much too soon. I played “Idlewild South” until the grooves sounded like the stylus was dragging through gravel, indelibly etching the songs into my soul.

  3. The 4 disc set also includes the studio album on Blu-ray, which is it’s own revelation. The separation achieved in Surround Sound brings you into Idlewild South like you never imagined. You can hear the individual tracks as if you were sitting in Tom Dowd’s chair, with a clarity that brings you in. Well worth the investment if you have a Blu-ray player. With Surround sound, mind blown.

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