The Allman Brothers Band

A Tale of Two Guitars

By: Ben Ratliff
For the New York Times

Each year, the Allman Brothers Band repeats a remarkable feat: filling the Beacon Theater night after night in a true New York City residency. As with the late-period Grateful Dead, the group’s records are souvenirs more than essential documents — a couple of live albums in the last decade; the brand-new “Hittin’ the Note” (Sanctuary) is its first studio album of new songs in nine years. The shows are the thing. Guests (including Béla Fleck) have drifted in and out of sets, as has a small horn section. But Tuesday’s show, filmed for a future DVD, represented the band in its plain state, working through a mixture of old and new songs. The septet is as sturdy as ever, basically supported by the drummer Butch Trucks, the singer and keyboardist Gregg Allman and the guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks.

The Allman Brothers’ twin-guitar sound has two distinct styles these days. Mr. Haynes’s is closer to the band’s former guitarists, Dickey Betts and Duane Allman. He focuses high up on the neck, in a fiddle’s pitch range, and works his way toward three- or four-note patterns, which he repeats, and repeats, and repeats, the whole thing gaining volume and intensity. It’s a hardheaded, macho approach, done extremely well.

Derek Trucks, 23, a member of the band since 1999 (and nephew of the drummer), has been evolving lately. He has the speed and the requisite collection of blues and country licks. He also has the will to go outside the songs’ harmonies occasionally, a fluttering sense of pitch borrowed from Indian classical music, accomplished by means of his bottleneck slide, and a flamenco musician’s sense of space between phrases.

With his picking hand snapping over the strings like a claw during leads or strumming with index and middle fingers extended when playing rhythm guitar, he uses odd techniques to get where he’s going. And rather than repeating until you get the point, he downscales the number of notes, going in for the kill with a single precision-tooled phrase you haven’t heard before.

The Allmans, whose run at the Beacon continues through Sunday, are satisfying: they have a mandate, and they fill it, with less of a meta-improvisational quality than they’ve had in the past, whereby one song morphed into another. Though the guitarists each took a number of long storytelling improvisations, they mostly got out of each other’s way; “Midnight Rider,” one of the band’s hits, was performed in brief, as a pop song with barely any soloing.

But Derek Trucks on his own is a new thing, hugely promising. On Monday, a night off for the Allmans, Mr. Trucks and his own band played at the Blue Note; he released a record on Columbia last fall and has been touring on the jam-band circuit.

His five-piece band ultimately serves as backing for his wise, occasionally brilliant playing. Using a slide for most of the set, he brought together his jazz, rock, blues and Indian influences into a single style, applicable to music as far apart as John Coltrane’s ballad “Naima” and some chugging Chicago-style blues.


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