The Allman Brothers Band has never stopped rockin’, never been long off the road, never left an audience disappointed. What’s wrong with this picture is that this legendary group, whose catalog includes more than a few timeless, landmark albums, hadn’t laid down any studio tracks in a long while.
All that changes on March 18, 2003, as their first new release in nine years hits the streets. Titled Hittin’ the Note and unleashed (on the band’s own Peach Records in partnership with Sanctuary Records), these 11 cuts are described by Gregg Allman as “the best album we’ve made since Eat a Peach.”
“There’s a lot of power in this lineup,” Allman insists. “The more we played, the more we realized how good we were sounding, so we figured we’d start writing some new songs and cutting them. We wound up surprising ourselves with how much great stuff we came up with. Hell, we’ve got enough left over to cut another record right now.”
Reinvigorated by the return of Warren Haynes to share the band’s famous harmonized lead guitar lines with Derek Trucks, the Brothers build Hittin’ the Note around their established sound, with stinging hooks, soulful melodies, dollops of deep blues, and the rolling, layered grooves that have become their rhythmic signature.
Though enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with a legacy that stretches back to the birth of jamming rock bands, the Allman Brothers Band plays on Hittin’ the Note with an urgency that’s beyond the reach of most younger bands. It begins with the greasy lick that kicks off with the first cut “Firing Line,” and grows through the heartache intensity of “Desdemona,” the reflective delicacy of “Old Before My Time,” the alternating blues feel and funky strut of the Freddy King cover “Woman Across the River,” the sizzling roadhouse shuffle of “Maydell,” and the breathtaking virtuosity on tracks that range from the intimate acoustic slide dialog of “Old Friend” to the trademark extended jam “Instrumental Illness,” a burnin’ twelve-minute marathon. There’s also an inspired blues version of the Rolling Stones’ “Heart of Stone,” which the Allman Brothers Band definitely put their stamp on. From the crisp production delivered by Haynes and Michael Barbiero (Gov’t. Mule, Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ziggy Marley) to every element of performance, Hittin’ the Note very well may stand near the top every critic’s list, for this year and for the ages as well.
The seeds for this new album were planted in 2001, when Warren Haynes of Gov’t. Mule and a former longtime member of the band, sat in during their annual extended Beacon Theater run in New York. With Dickey Betts’ departure, the rest of the group was anxious see how it felt to have Haynes back. “It was like a trial run,” the guitarist recalls. “They even billed it as ‘The Allman Brothers Band With Special Guest Warren Haynes.’ I knew it was going to be good, but to tell you the truth I was overwhelmed. The band sounded amazing, and the vibe was better than it had been in a long, long time.”
At the end of the Beacon engagement, Haynes accepted the invitation to come back on a permanent basis. His arrival signified the time was finally right to cut that new album they’d been putting off. “We’d been having some trouble in the band with personnel,” Allman says. “These sorts of things don’t inspire you to write new stuff, but when Warren came back the music just came spilling out. Songwriting with Warren made it really fun again.”
With Hittin’ the Note finished, the ABB is gearing up for the road, kicking off with the 13 “March Madness” shows at the Beacon (March 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 21 22, 25, 26, 28, 29, and 30). As always, great songs from throughout their career will be featured on set lists (and will be filmed for a DVD release), but special attention will be paid as well to performing material from the new album, as well as a few choice surprises. These juxtapositions will document that the Allman Brothers Band is unique in American music–a band whose extraordinary past only enhances its power as a vital and contemporary act.
“We’ve never cut any corners or used any gimmicks,” Allman muses. “We’ve always played good old honest blues/rock & roll/jazz fusion–that’s Southern rock spelled right. And we’ve never let up. My grandfather told me a long time ago, ‘Boy, you get out of it what you put into it’; we’re still putting all we got into it now.”
The Allman Brothers Band is Gregg Allman, vocals and keyboards; Jaimoe, drums; Butch Trucks, drums and tympani; Warren Haynes, vocals, lead and slide guitar; Derek Trucks, lead and slide guitar; Oteil Burbridge, bass and Marc Quinones, congas and percussion.
You can pre-order the CD at Amazon.com:
Hittin’ the Note and have it shipped to you as soon as it comes out.