DIVINE ALBUM: THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND IS BACK IN FULL ROAR
By Ed Bumgardner, JOURNAL ARTS REPORTER
4 July 2003, Winston-Salem Journal
(c) Copyright 2003 Piedmont Publishing Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Allman Brothers Band, Hittin’ The Note, Peach/Sanctuary/BMG. * * * * (out of four).
Thank God for the faithful. For it is the faithful who have stood by the contemporary Allman Brothers Band through decades of wasted potential and too many incarnations content to simply play and pay off the past.
It has been an uphill climb for the Allmans since the deaths of visionary guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley in the early 1970s. There have been moments of musical court and spark, but for the most part a catatonic Gregg Allman simply deadened his band.
Change came by way of the hotly debated firing of founding guitarist Dickey Betts combined with the improbability of Allman kicking a drug and alcohol addiction of 30 years – he has been clean for five years. The result is what only the die-hard fans believed could happen: The Allman Brothers, sufficiently road-tested, have returned with a new album, Hittin’ The Note, that picks up where the band’s seminal Eat a Peach album stopped in 1972.
The album is that great – and then some. It flaunts the sound of a once-mighty band creatively invigorated, back in full roar – in the parlance of the original band, hittin’ the note, and hittin’ it hard.
All the original elements are back in place – two flame-throwing guitarists (Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks); a fully functional Allman, playing Hammond organ with flair, singing stronger and with more heartfelt emotion than at any time since his youth.
Then there are the extended instrumental sections, seven players playing as one, communicating almost telepathically and with breathtaking passion and virtuosity. The instrumental glories of “Desdemona” or the jaw-dropping “Instrumental Illness” find no notes wasted, no egos indulged – it’s all about the music, as much jazz as its is rock and blues.
The beauty is that this version of the Allmans, in every way the equal of the original band, is also, in some ways, its superior. The songwriting is strong – Haynes, Allman (who has 30 years of woe to draw from) and bassist extraordinaire Oteil Burbridge all contribute – and the playing boasts fresh depth and a deeper level of virtuosity. The results carry the band with disarming ease across some mighty sophisticated musical territory that is new to the Allman lexicon.
Wonderful revisions of Freddie King’s “Woman Across the River” and the Rolling Stones’ “Heart of Stone” better the originals. And the distinctive musical voices of Haynes and Trucks, though rooted in the tone and taste of the late brother Duane, go beyond tribute to add fresh finesse to a classic foundation.
Hittin’ The Note is nothing short of divine intervention, the work of a bona fide miracle – proof positive that nothing is impossible if the faith is kept.