More than a half-century since its release, The Allman Brothers Band’s concert album, At Fillmore East, remains their signature release. It is, in fact, the title by which most people know the seminal Southern band’s work. Yet its successor, Eat A Peach, isn’t far behind in terms of widespread recognition and for good reason: it is an equally accurate summation of their talents as musicians and posits the group as recording artists quickly learning the advantages of the studio environs under the tutelage of producer Tom Dowd (he had also produced their second LP, 1970’s Idlewild South, not to mention its storied successor and would work with the band after its 1979 and 1989 reunions as well).
Oddly, however, especially given the latter’s honing of technology early in his celebrated career, the audio quality of the recordings lacks definition, even on the 2004 SACD (albeit to a slightly lesser degree). But that technical shortfall can’t undermine the impact of the Allmans’ fourth release: it is significant first of all, on its own terms, as the first title issued in the wake of the death of founding member and titular leader Duane Allman. At the time of ‘Skydog”s fatal motorcycle accident in October of 1971, the Brothers had already completed the recording of new material, one of which selections is the only composition ever credited solely to the elder Allman sibling, the acoustic guitar duet with Dickey Betts dubbed “Little Martha.”
Equally if not more important is the appearance of “Blue Sky,” a tune that would become one of the most famous numbers (of more than a few) associated with the founder’s aforementioned guitar partner: their spiraling guitar interplay near its close might well be the peak of their fruitful instrumental partnership. Gregg Allman’s “Stand Back” remains somewhat less substantive as a song within Allman’s lore, but there’s still no denying the fervency of its author’s singing, not to mention his brother’s scythe-like slide playing: in its own way, the guitar work teems with the same depth of emotion.
“Melissa” and “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” are two more fruits of those post-tragedy efforts and, like the pair of tracks captured with the original lineup, became staples in the ABB repertoire for the duration of their forty-five-year existence. The surviving Allman has never sounded more world-weary than on those performances, but he proffers an otherwise resolute state of mind—particularly in the latter–that’s echoed further by the inclusion of Betts’ instrumental “Les Brers in A Minor: ” this heady piece in the mold of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” aids immeasurably in positioning Eat A Peach firmly within the established tradition(s) of the Allman Brothers Band.
Additional live takes from ABB appearances at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East (the source of the other famous title) not only render this double-disc package something of a sequel to AFE, but also one of the great transitional works in contemporary rock. “Trouble No More” and “One Way Out” amply demonstrate the Allmans’ feel for the blues, not to mention their ability to create tight, concise arrangements. The comparatively abbreviated stand in sharp contrast to the other concert cull here, a roughly thirty-three minute interpretation of “Mountain Jam;” having been honed on stage for some months prior, this improv on fey English folkie Donovan’s “There Is A Mountain” is indispensable to the iconic status of this title. Highlighting as it does both the collective and individual prowess within the original Brothers lineup, this rendition climaxes in truly majestic fashion, the drama of its conclusion all the more moving with the sound of Duane Allman’s voice introducing the band members at the end of the sextet’s playing.
Just prior to those heartrending moments, the Allman Brothers had emphatically stated the main melodic motif of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?.” Valiantly vowing to continue without their fallen leader, the five remaining members would reunite to play this traditional at their fallen comrade’s funeral, after which they soldiered on in a fashion that calls to mind the various interpretations of this album title (a quote from Duane, a reference to poet T. S. Eliot or both). Initially carrying on—some would say with a vengeance–as a quintet depicted on the 2004 archive release, Macon City Auditorium: Macon, GA 2/11/72, that lineup lasted only until the midst of recording their next studio album, Brothers and Sisters, during which time keyboardist Chuck Leavell officially joined the band, based in part on his stellar contributions to Gregg’s 1973 solo album Laid Back (see the Super Deluxe edition of the group album for evidence of that chemistry).
It’s a tragic irony indeed that the ABB was never more commercially successful than at this period. Their name and reputation was on the ascent at the time of Duane’s passing, but it’s hardly a coincidence (and certainly appropriate) that their breakthrough to the mainstream, “Rambling’ Man,” was another composition of Dickey’s: he had effectively become the titular leader of the group. By that time too, bassist Berry Oakley had died in a traffic fatality eerily similar to his bandmate’s and his replacement, Lamar Williams, supplied a gritty, r&b-influenced style of playing that furthered the country-tinged reconfiguration of the group’s style exemplified by the aforementioned hit and “Jessica,” another soon-to-be-famous Betts instrumental.
Hard as it sometimes is to fathom with a half-century retrospect, these monumental changes were only the beginnings of a near-constant string of metamorphoses over coming decades under the name ‘Allman Brothers Band.’ Such noteworthy events continued right through to the closure of the band’s career in 2014, a denouement enacted, after some fits and starts begun early in that year, by personnel together longer than any other lineup in their history: in addition to charter members and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks, as well as namesake Gregg, guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks plus bassist Oteil Burbridge and percussionist Marc Quinones were on stage that final night. The final performance took place at the Beacon Theater in New York City, a venue that became the unit’s favorite venue in the early 2000’s, precisely because it reminded them of the Fillmore. Fittingly too, the four-hour-plus performance (that concluded on the date Duane died) featured the bulk of Eat A Peach, arousing but respectful recognition of the durability of its music as well as the musicians who originally created it.
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