Released roughly a year after the very milestone its subtitle commemorates, Trouble No More: 50th Anniversary Collection spans the arc of The Allman Brothers Band’s near half-century career. Producers Bill Stevenson, John Lynskey and Kirk West clearly took great pains to touch all the necessary bases on a compendium available as five-CDs, ten vinyl LPs and in digital form. Within all the indispensables, the curators also incorporate seven previously-unreleased nuggets alongside some other provocative inclusions, that attention to detail ultimately rendering this anthology a ready reference point for further exploration of the seminal Southern rockers oeuvre (Live from A&R Studios is an ideal place to start).
Comprised of a gold-embossed slipcase within which is an eighty-eight-page book of photos, prose and other detailed historical information as well as replications of memorabilia, this package is not, however, the illuminating retrospective of 1989’s Dreams. That archival work is an exhaustive compilation forged from essential content illuminated with samples of the group’s early work as well as its later solo endeavors. Trouble No More is targeted at a demographic less rather than more familiar with The Allman Brothers, music lovers more curious than knowledgeable about its evolution. Yet even as this 50th Anniversary Collection may have only limited appeal to long-time fans, the brilliance of so much of what’s inside is indisputable.
CD1: The Capricorn Years 1969 – 1979 Part I: Remastered sonics are every bit as potent as the musicianship at its best on Trouble No More. As a result, unsung artifacts like “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” from Live at Ludlow Garage, fully complement indispensable inclusions from the Allman Brothers earliest studio albums. Juxtaposing Gregg Allman’s “Dreams” and “Whipping Post,” with Dickey Betts’ “Blue Sky”off Eat A Peach only reaffirms how quickly the original Allmans lineup evolved prior to the tragedy of founder Duane’s death in 1971, the same year At Fillmore East boasted the surviving guitarist’s seminal instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” And book-ending these sixty-one tracks total with two different versions of the Muddy Waters title tune is a microcosm of the thoughtful concept and execution of this project: the opening demo version from 1969 finds the young band teeming with confidence, while the closing cut radiates triumph as the very last number played at the final October 2014 Beacon Theater show.
CD2: The Capricorn Years 1969 – 1979 Part II: The loss of bassist Berry Oakley (in an accident eerily similar to Duane’s) during the recording of Brothers and Sisters did not prevent a drastically-altered Allman Brothers lineup from reconfiguring its sound and simultaneously achieving its greatest mainstream success with Dickey’s “Ramblin’ Man.” This laid-back live take of Gregg’s “Come And Go Blues,” from the Watkins Glen festival in 1973, vividly illustrates how a gritty r&b flavor contrasted with brighter country tones, typified by another Betts’ signature song “Jessica,” (the rollicking piano courtesy Chuck Leavell). But it’s here, in the midst of familiar tracks early in the progression of this 50th Anniversary Collection, that the relative scarcity of unreleased content becomes most noticeable: this “Mountain Jam” from the aforementioned mammoth show, is certainly notable for the participation of members of the other bands on the bill, specifically Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead alongside Robbie Robertson of The Band, but its mere ten-minute duration only whets the appetite for more.
CD3: The Capricorn Years 1969 – 1979 Part III / The Arista Years 1980 – 1981: In keeping with the fundamental thrust of Trouble No More, author Lynskey goes more broad than deep in his near nine-thousand-word account of the Allman Brothers’ history. In doing so, though, he thankfully eschews dwelling on the tension and melodrama that so often afflicted the group, as on the fragmented Win Lose or Draw album and even the initial 1979 reunion documented on the group’s final effort for the Capricorn label. Enlightened Rogues did marked a return to the two-guitar format of the original sextet, most prominent on yet another trademark instrumental of Betts’, the soaring “Pegasus,” while the steadfast dual drumming of the late Butch Trucks and Jaimoe kept the overproduction at bay on the next year’s over-polished Reach for the Sky; the latter was gone by Brothers of the Road, the second of two albums for Arista, this nadir of the ABB discography listenable only for Gregg’s moving “Never Knew How Much (I Needed You).”
CD4: The Epic Years 1990 – 2000: (195w): One of the few rarities within the near seven hours total running time here is ample evidence of how Jack Pearson became a revered but largely unsung figure in ABB lore. The heretofore unreleased “I’m Not Crying” showcases the versatility of the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter who preceded Derek Trucks in the ABB (inexplicably, nothing appears from the period where the latter was guitar partner to Betts). Bonding in the wake of the 1989 reunion, the mutual inspiration between Dickey and Warren Haynes as both songwriters and guitarists carried over to include the band’s namesake: hear Gregg wail on this live acoustic take of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” as well as the brawny blues-rock of “End of the Line” and “Sailin’ Across the Devil’s Sea” (co-written by Pearson). The keen hindsight arising from this archival project clarifies how the Allmans of this era benefited by returning to work with their original producer of note, the late Tom Dowd.
CD5: The Peach Years 2000 – 2014: The cream of the Brothers final studio album, Hittin’ the Note, appears as “High Cost of Low Living” and an extended live take of “Desdemona” (from Haynes’ 2001 return to the fold after departing to form Gov’t Mule in 1997). “Old Before My Time,” arguably the finest song of Gregg Allman’s career, is an indispensable inclusion as well, but this lineup also regularly covered outside material, many of those selections, like “Loan Me A Dime,” indirectly related to its history: the version from Boz Scaggs’ first eponymous solo album became famous for Duane Allman’s incendiary solo and Derek Trucks blazes away in like-minded fashion on this concert piece. But that’s only after being set up by the fiery intensity of Jimmy Herring: this previously-unreleased stands as the only official document of the current Widespread Panic guitarist’s presence on the ABB 2000 summer tour (in the wake of Betts’ ouster following that year’s Beacon Theater run).