It’s quite reasonable to consider The Allman Brothers Band one of the key American groups of the 70s. Their blues drenched southern rock defined a style that is eternally linked to long hair and even longer jams. So it is something of a surprise to recall that Gregg and Duane Allman actually formed their eponymous outfit in the 1960s.
The 1969 self-titled debut is raw and powerful and leaps out of the speakers like a charging brumby. Their second release, Idlewild South, is even better.* The six-member band are tight and confident. The grooves are infectious and memorable. Brother Gregg’s soulful voice soothes, entreats and preaches, Duane’s guitar is both subtle and demanding.
On the classic instrumental “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed”, second guitarist Dicky Betts steps forward both as a worthy compadre to Brother Duane but also as a composer/writer of skill and invention. His opening song “Revival” has a big dollop of hippy love ’n’ peace sentiment, yet remains as joyful and uplifting an opening track as any of the era.
“Midnight Rider” is one of the Allman’s best songs. The loneliness and determination capture the spirit of southern rock perfectly.
Well, I've got to run to keep from hiding And I'm bound to keep on riding And I've got one more silver dollar But I'm not gon' let 'em catch me, no Not gonna let 'em catch the midnight rider
I love this song; it’s one of my favourite Gregg A vocals. The boy enjoyed it too, even though he heard the key line as “No I’m not goin’ to live in cat manure”. That’s a worthy goal too, of course, even if it is a bit less outlaw cowboy in tone.
Side Two opens with the Willie Dixon classic “Hoochie Coochie Man”, featuring vocals (in fact, the only Allman Bros lead vocal) by bassist Berry Oakley. The guitar interplay between Duane and Dicky is thrilling. There’s funk in the blue waters too, notably on “Don’t keep me wondering”.
Gregg’s signature organ is always a jazz-tinged joy, yet on “Please call home” (and “Midnight Rider”) he chooses piano instead. It adds to the range of textures and leaves that little extra space in the music. Nice. The album closes with “Leave My Blues At Home”, another solid Gregg Allman composition that rollicks along with some great soloing from the guitarists over a rock solid foundation laid down by Jai Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks.
The Allman Brothers Band played live a whole lot, and their concert recordings are legendary. Yet this Tom Dowd produced studio set on the Capricorn label is one of the finest releases by the band, and one of the most enduring LPs of 1970. Happy fiftieth anniversary, Idlewild South.
* The first two LPs were re-issued on the album “Beginnings” and on a single CD. Worth snapping up if you see either.