The Allman Brothers Band
Hittin' The Note Indeed!
On their first studio effort in nine years, The Allman Brothers Band displays as much of a joyous sense of adventure as they do a sense of rigorous self-discipline. The first thing you notice about Hittin' the Note (Peach/Sanctuary) is how splendid it sounds. The rhythm section, including charter members Jaimoe and Butch Trucks on drums, echoes solidly and sounds especially intricate with percussionist Mac Quinones so clearly audible. In much the same way, the extent to which bassist Oteil Burbridge rumbles through the lower registers and soars through the uppers extends the depth of co-producer Michael Barbiero's(with Warren Haynes') spacious mix.
For his part, Gregg Allman sings with a force on this album that belies the thirty-year span since the Allman Brothers debut. Not only has the keyboardist/composer's voice deepened dramatically, he's developed a command of vocal phrasing that allows him to impart emotional authenticity to widely diverse material. On 'Desdemona, ' for instance, Gregg's world-weary tone adds atmosphere to a track already dripping with languor, while on the raucous opening track, 'Firing Line,' his singing derives both authority and inspiration from the firepower marshaled around him
Of course, it's the sound of the two current guitarists, each assigned his own channel in the stereo spectrum, that confirms that the chemistry of the Allman Brothers Band has been recaptured in all its glory. Young Derek Trucks demonstrates his innate sense of logic during his solos track after track, his sense of abandon complementing rather than undermining his impeccable finesse. Warren Haynes has learned much about the latter virtue from his precocious partner and continues to displays a self-restraint in his soloing that only makes it more potent. Both Trucks and Haynes reveal a sweet side in their playing throughout the album as well and that's the true indication of their grasp of dynamics. You can hear this virtue most clearly on the concluding cut 'Old Friend,' a largely acoustic slide workout that sounds like a timeless blues classic (Haynes sings this in a guttural caterwaul that's a fine foil for Gregg's earthy wailing). If that doesn't convince you, take a close listen to the twelve-minute 'Instrumental Illness,' arguably the most exciting recording of its kind in the ABB discography (yes, superior to the studio take of 'Elizabeth Reed,' if not as interesting structurally): here the two axemen serve to ratchet up each others' intensity through an almost telepathic interaction.
Sequenced in such a way that the growing sameness of the material during the first part of the album gives way to what may be the finest tune Allman has ever written, the patently autobiographical acoustic ballad 'Old Before My Time,' Hittin' the Note might've benefited from the exclusion of a couple numbers, specifically 'Maydell' and 'Who to Believe,' that seem redundant on repeated listening. But the inclusion of a cover of the Rolling Stones 'Heart of Stone' reaffirms a description of the ABB as a contemporary blues orchestra: the r&b inflections Haynes and Trucks use to pepper a number of tracks elsewhere find a home here.
Victory Dance was the tentative name of this album at one point, but its actual title becomes even more meaningful in terms of the band's history, as well as its present and its future. The original ABB lineup used the phrase 'hittin' the note' to describe that unique point in the group's collective improvisations where inspiration found its way directly into the musicianship. That's exactly what you're hearing on this seventy-plus minute CD virtually from start to finish.
Tracks: Firing Line; High Cost of Low Living; Desdemona; Woman Across the River; Old Before My Time; Who to Believe; Maydell; Rockin' Horse; Heart of Stone; Instrumental Illness; Old Friend.
Personnel: Gregg Allman: Piano, Organ (Hammond), Vocals, Clavinet, Warren Haynes: Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar, Vocals, Vocals (bckgr), Slide Guitar, Mixing, Oteil Burbridge: Bass, Jaimoe: Drums, Marc Qui'ones: Percussion, Conga, Butch Trucks: