DEVON ALLMAN – Turquoise

Ruf Records 1186 [Released Jan 2013]

Devon Allman’s star is on the rise. After touring relentlessly and cutting a brace of albums with his own band Honeytribe, he made a deserved critical breakthrough with the excellent Royal Southern Brotherhood. Now he’s quickly gone back in the studio to cut his first solo album and the result is a resounding triumph.

‘Turquoise’ is an album with a spiritual undercurrent that is topped and tailed by songs that deal with leaving home and the need to kick back outside of the demands of the industry that he’s committed to. Not that any of the music here suggests anything less that inspired lyrics, well crafted arrangements and great playing. Above all, ‘Turquoise’ achieves its aims of delivering a definitive Devon Allman solo album, full of signature songs, heartfelt lyrics and a variety of delightful guitar tones

Devon has spent a good part of his career eschewing the refracted glory of the Allman’s spotlight and this album tells you just why. He’s a fiercely independent character with an imposing baritone voice and a trademark guitar style showcased in a southern tinged style. He’s also musically adventurous being unafraid to explore Afro-Latino flourishes on ‘There’s No Time’ , and understated grooves such as ‘Don’t Set Me Free’  co penned with his long time buddy and fellow RSB band member Mike Zito.

Above all ‘Turquoise’ is an album that presentsDevonin his own terms. There’s no pandering to any preconceived expectations as he subtly meanders his way through deep fried grooves and ballads, southern tinged rock, acoustic elements and a magnificent duet with Samantha Fish on a cover of Petty ‘Stop Draggin My Heart’ complete with catchy ‘whoooo’ bv’s.  The band’s anchor track is ‘Homesick’ which was the first song written for the album and is a gentle reminder of his core family values outside the demands of a road hardened rocker.

Much lie one of his contemporaries JJ Grey, this album feels like a wind swept dip into the best of southern nuances with quality songs to match. The slide-led autobiographical ‘When I Left Home’ for example, is full of potent changes and sumptuous guitar parts, offset by Devon’s baritone and glistening harmonies on the chorus.

The Zito co-write ‘Don’t Set Me Free’ is a big sounding, mid -tempo arrangement full of jangling guitars, organ and emotive vocal, while ‘Time Machine’ is an absolute peach of a ballad. The tic-toc rhythm, cutting acoustic guitar, sparkling percussion and aching baritone all contribute to a meditative cool groove. It might even give him some deserved radio plays.

On the  Tyler Stokes co-penned ‘There’s No Time’ he explores some essential Afro/Carrib/Latino rhythms, and later returns to the same influences on the shimmering shuffle of ‘Key Lime Pie’, while ‘Strategy’ is a rehash of an old reshaped song with a contrasting sweeping vocal and delicately crafted solo

‘Into The Darkness’ is a sax led ode to his son with some great soulful phrasing and it sits well in a set full of songs that basically act as a running commentary of his life so far.

Devonopts for an almost low key, but rigorously focussed ending, with the acoustic instrumental ‘Yadira’s Lullaby’ evoking the late great John Fahey, while ‘Turn Off The World’ is a delicate end-piece worthy of its status as the closing track on an excellent album. It’s a song about recharging your batteries. Devonsings; ‘Let the salt water cleanse your soul, washing off all that rock & roll. You got slow down sometimes and turn off the world’. Never was such a poignant observation better made. ***** (5/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra

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