BMG [Release 28.06.19]
The Allman Betts Band don’t so much reinvent the wheel as relive subliminal snapshots of the band’s musical antecedents.
They formed on the 50th anniversary of the first Allman Brothers gig and brought with them a weight of expectation that the Chris Williams penned ‘Autumn Breeze’ quickly alleviates. The song may not have come from the band, but the musical spark is truly their own.
There’s an undeniable familiarity to the music that is stamped through with Southern rock triggers such as harmony guitar lines, sudden uplifting solos, nuanced piano fills, significant organ lines and reflective lyrical imagery.
‘Down To the River’ is an organic album, built on solid grooves, plangent riffs, Devon Allman’s lived in lead vocal and plenty of dirt in the tracks.
It also a live to tape recording in Muscle Shoals no less, almost as if trying to soak up the ghosts of the past. And yet if the band stutters on the brink of replicating what has gone before, at the 2.55 mark on the opening ‘All Night’ they find something extra, as they fire on all cylinders, tempered by some cool bv’s.
In truth, the rest of the album could do with a similar injection of energy. For though the material is strong enough, there’s a pervasive languid feel, which is just about offset by some warm guitar tones, Johnny Stachela’s lilting slide runs and as on the closing slow build of the poignant ‘Long Gone’, some treacle thick bass lines from Berry Oakley Jr., as the band rises one final time to engage us in a Band style blow out.
‘Down To the River’ is a gently spun retro album that doffs its hats to the Sticky Fingers era of The Stones on the riff led opener ‘All Night’ and the following ‘Shinin’, on which Duane Betts’s nasal voice is in sharp contrast to Devon’s opening rich baritone.
Duane Betts’s vocal grows in stature on a song sounds like something from the early 70’s Allman Brothers, an observation that might be laid at the album as a whole. And in that regard, it’s perhaps no surprise to find guests special guests The Allman Brothers and Stones piano player Chuck Leavell and Gregg Allman’s B3 player Peter Levin.
The Cisco Adler/Devon Allman penned title track is a notable highlight, being a cool groove with the kind of sub Latino feel long favoured by Devon in his solo career. Some cute woo-hoo bv’s help fill the space, before a lattice of interwoven guitar work and a beautifully voiced repeated hook on the outro.
Most significantly, the band pay due respect to the quality of the song and it’s that facet that gives the album an extra layer of depth.
That said, they immediately find room for a loose Allman Brothers style intro to the extended anchor track ‘Autumn Breeze’ which fleetingly evokes the vibe of The Allman Brothers ‘Dreams’.
The slow build and dual guitar break is pure Allman Brothers and as the guitars coalesce there’s the kind of magic in the air that warrants the live to tape approach of the production.
And yet despite the subtle rise and swell of the jam style track, it all sounds like something we’ve heard before. But hey, if Southern rock heritage is what you’re looking for this track delivers it in spades.
Happily there’s enough variety and twist and turns to maintain our interest, as evidenced by the Devon Allman sung ‘Good Ol’ Days’, a surprisingly reflective piece for a relatively young band, complete with Stachela’s weepy slide. Then there’s the aptly titled ‘Memories Are Melodies’, with its country tinged Grateful Dead feel, and timeless bv’s.
The band’s sense of time and place is best reflected on a well chosen a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Southern Accents’, though it’s probably more about the geography than the time, as the lyrics make a intrinsic connection with the band’s own musical heritage and one that would make their parents smile.
Ultimately you can’t fault a band featuring three sons of southern rock giants looking to forge their own musical direction. In the end they’ve penned some good songs, taken the bold decision to cut it live in the studio and uncovered some hot licks and magical moments, albeit with the weight of musical history seeping through their pores. In sum this says more about the statis of the Southern rock scene than this well crafted album. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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