Allman Brothers Band & Little Feat: Jam Today, Jam Tomorrow
The Allman Brothers Band has more than just a few things in common with Little Feat. Both bands were formed in the pivotal year 1969, two years after the Monterey Festival and the summer of love, the same year as the Woodstock Festival, and three years prior to the release of Rolling Stones' last significant work, Exile On Main St. (Rolling Stones Records/Atlantic, 1972). Both bands released definitive (if not the definitive) live recordings, The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East (Capricorn, 1971) and Little Feat Waiting For Columbus (Warner Bros, 1978).
Less happily, both bands experienced the deaths of central members that easily could have been permanent deal breakers (read: Led Zeppelin). Both bands subsequently disbanded, reformed and reformed again. Both bands remain creatively active, possessing a dedicated core following, and tour often and widely with an element of their respective fan bases following the bands from show to show, a la The Grateful Dead and Wide Spread Panic. And that is painting the picture with the broad-bristled brush.
A finer comparison between the bands may be struck in each bands' releasing a single studio recording after lengthy absences from such. In the case of the Allmans it was the release of Hittin' The Note (Sanctuary, 2003) and with Little Feat it was Kickin' It At The Barn (Hot Tomato, 2003) and Fred Tackett's In A Town Like This (Hot Tomato, 2003). These recordings provided both bands the new material on which to spread out and improvise while still retaining their considerable books of older music, enabling each to span two generations of listeners.
A second finer comparison is reflected in the bands' respective willingness to release, either commercially or through audience taping, their live shows from the current tours. Since 2003, the Allman Brothers Band has been serviced by Instant Live, a company dedicated to the recording and engineering of entire tours of a variety of bands. Presently it appears that the Allman Brothers are in the process of switching services from Instant Live (which appears to be defunct) to Munck Music, a similar company that currently documents none other than Little Feat.
The Allman's inaugural Munck Music release is that of their performance at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Little Feat has enjoyed the services of Munck Music since 2004, releasing over three dozen live performances. Additionally, Little Feat continues to release live material on their independent label, Hot Tomato Records, most recently a performance in Boulder, Co. Rocky Mountain Jam (2007). These two bands with two new live releases deserve at least a passing glance at their current live shows.
The Allman Brothers Band
2007 New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival
In the past decade, the Allman Brothers Band has evolved into a finely tuned cohesive unit that specializes in improvisational rock music. Colloquially, the Allmans, like Little Feat, Wide Spread Panic, and the String Cheese Incident, may be considered jam bands. The prototypical jam band was the Grateful Dead. After the death of guitarist Jerry Garcia, the Dead disbanded, leaving a void for their large cult following, who quickly switched to Phish and the above mentioned bands for their cultural fix.
Of all active jam bands, the Allman Brothers might be considered to exist as the neo-prototype. With 40 years of creative experience, the Allmans have amassed a huge book from which to draw for concerts. Their last studio recording, Hittin' The Note, infused that book with new concert favorites that include "Woman Across The River, "Instrumental Illness, "Rockin' Horse, and "Desdemona, the latter two being included in the band's set at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival.
The Allman Brothers appeared on the Gentilly Stage May 5th to an appreciative crowd, providing a typically lengthy show of the standard Allman book ("Statesboro Blues, "One Way Out and "Dreams") as well as covers the band has recently been performing ("Walk On Gilded Splinters, "Into The Mystic, and "The Weight ). The band still sports two of the finest electric blues slide guitarists in Derek Truck and Warren Haynes. I give Trucks the nod for superior slide chops, though he still runs and distant second to Louisiana's own Sonny Landreth.
All performances were solid, including the Dickey Betts numbers that the band has hung onto like the lengthy "Jessica and compare favorably to the Instant Live releases by the band over the past two years. This show did not feature "Mountain Jam or "Whipping Post, revealing the band's employment of the newer material as heavy improvisational vehicles. Gregg Allman's voice is in excellent form and the band never ceases to amaze with the intensity and fire with which they continue to play as the road truly goes on forever.
See The Allman Brothers Band on the web.
Rocky Mountain Jam
Hot Tomato Records
In contrast to the Allman Brothers Band's full-bore concert at the New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival is Little Feat's carefully pruned single live disc Rocky Mountain Jam. Rocky Mountain Jam is not typical of the most recent Little Feat live recordings, whether released by Hot Tomato (Barnstorming Live, Volumes 1 & 2 (2006), Little Feat: Highwire Act Live In St. Louis 2003 (2004), and Down Upon The Suwannee River) (2003) or Munck Music. Jam is an abbreviated release occupying a single disc (as all of the above mentioned are multiple discs), a cherry-picked collection of exceptional performances from a single show.
The only real surprise is the opening "Marginal Creatures from Chinese Work Songs (CMC International, 2000). Often criticized for the lack of Lowell George's erudition, Paul Barrere with Fred Tackett penned a relentless, guitar-driven juggernaut with lyrics rivaling those of George's "Mercenary Territory. From a programming point of view, "Marginal Creatures is a perfect set opener, no matter how contrived the order of this set. Barrere's superior slide guitar playing coupled with his simpatico association with Tackett's guitar over the past 20 years achieves a standard fo musicianship high enough to make Jam a recommendable release even to those listeners who may feel they have all of the live Feat he or she may want.
Barrere and Tackett have honed their combined guitar playing to a razor edge. In the introduction to the Lowell George-era "Rocket In My Pocket, the two guitarists contrapuntally spar, weaving standard and slide guitar together in a structure that would make Bach smile. The center of any Little Feat concert will always be "Dixie Chicken and this release is no different. The band has always used the piece as a vehicle for improvisations of all types and its performance has evolved overtime.
On Down Upon The Suwannee River, Barrere introduced the piece with "Lafayette Railroad from Dixie Chicken (Warner Bros, 1973), initially unrecognizable due to Fred Tackett's Miles Davis-like muted trumpet. Bill Payne adds a tease quote from "Day Or Night from The Last Record Album (Warner Bros, 1975) before sliding into the familiar strains of "Railroad. Seamlessly, Railroad gives way to an incendiary "Dixie Chicken complete with a Kenny Gradney bass solo and a Bill Payne performance of Bach's "Goldberg Variations" aria.
On Jam, "Dixie Chicken has retained Paul Barrere's practice of recent years of introducing the song with a tease from Miles Davis' "So What, replete with Tackett's aforementioned trumpet, leading into a tease on the Grateful Dead's "Dark Star (both uncredited on this present recording) before the familiar jaunt of the song begins. In recent years, after the first verse, most anything can happen. Kenny Gradney has been afforded bass solo time as well as Bill Payne being given time to spread out. In the current performance, Payne inserts "Fighting The Mosquito Wars from Kickin' It At The Barn among the festivities.
The song ends 21 minutes later following radioactive solos by Barrere (on slide guitar) and Tackett. The show closes with a driving "Feats Don't Fail Me Now. While Rocky Mountain Jam may at first glance look like a throw-off release with no purpose, the performances are superb, amply illustrating the vast talent wielded by the post Lowell George Little Feat.
See Little Feat on the web.
Tracks and Personnel
2007 New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival
Tracks: Introduction; Don't Want You No More > Cross To Bear; Ain't Wasting Time No More; Gilded Splinters; Equipment Change; Rockin' Horse; Statesboro Blues; Melissa; Trouble No More; Into The Mystic; Equipment Check; Desdemona; Midnight Rider; Every Hungry Woman; Dreams; Guest Introductions; The Weight; Jessica; Band Introductions; One Way Out; Stage announcements.
Personnel: Gregg Allman: vocals, keyboards; Butch Trucks: drums; Jaimoe Johnson: drums; Warren Haynes: guitars, vocals; Marc Quinones: percussion; Oteil Burbridge: bass; Derek Trucks: guitars.
Rocky Mountain Jam
Tracks: Marginal Creatures; On Clear Moment/Sunday Jam; Rocket In My Pocket; Spanish Moon/Skin It Back; Dixie Chicken; Feats Don't Fail Me Now.
Personnel: Fred Tackett: vocals, guitar, mandolin, trumpet; Paul Barrere: vocals, guitar, harmonica; Bill Payne: vocals, keyboards; Richie Hayward: vocals, drums; Shaun Murphy: vocals, tambourine; Sam Clayton: vocals, percussion; Kenny Gradney: bass guitar.