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The Allman Brothers Band: Bear's Sonic Journals: Fillmore East February 1970 - Deluxe Edition

Doug Collette By

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This Fillmore East February 1970 set is actually the third physical release of these recordings, originally issued in truncated form in 1996 as part of the Grateful Dead's Dick's Pick's archive series. This three-CD set follows closely on the heels of the 2018 digital distribution of all the recordings from the three New York dates on which these two bands shared a bill.

Coincidental with that release and taken from those very same files, a single compilation disc came out at that time too. So, for better or worse (depending on if a music fan went ahead with an earlier purchase), that CD is also included in this limited run, along with the aforementioned additional content. As such, the package represents the definitive and comprehensive overview of the work completed at the late Bill Graham's mythic venue under the auspices of Owsley Stanley, the legendary audio guru and renaissance man compatriot of the psychedelic warriors from San Francisco.

Given all that, it should come as no surprise this final offering offers multiple angles from which to inspect and process the material. Not the least of those is sound quality, mastered here by Jeffrey Norman, who oversees similar vault work for the Grateful Dead, as well as the Plangent Processes team of John Chester and Jamie Howarth, who worked to reduce the so-called "wow and flutter" effect residual from the original tapes. While the presence is somewhat lacking, the separation of instruments usually is not, all the better to discern how the Brothers were honing their collective instincts as they played what are now considered their standards, such as the very first number they ever played together, "Trouble No More."

Enclosed within graphic design similar to, but different in color scheme from the previous art, the predominant red of the Deluxe Edition cover is as immediately-recognizable as the giant shrooms on the discs themselves. While essayist John Lynskey's superficial writing belies that level of sonic detail, the voluminous credits here otherwise allow both the scholarly music lover and devout Peach-head to correlate recording dates. And one piece of observant prose included in the sixteen-page booklet, alongside a snapshot of the venue's marquee and its stage/proscenium, even the curators themselves are sufficiently enthralled by the material to offer a comparative overview of the various takes of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." The fully-formed, bracing renditions here do deserve that attention.

There are, in fact, various means by which to compare and contrast the different selections in the process of becoming staples in the Dixie rockers' repertoire, even apart from the aforementioned instrumental of Dickey Betts' that was each night's opener. For instance, there's the closer of all three night's sets, the Brothers' open-ended take on English folkie Donovan's child-like tune in the form of "Mountain Jam:" the improvisations had yet to attain majesty, but the evolution is clear across the second and third discs here, each version over the weekend progressively more clearly defined and not just in terms of it audio (hear Jaimoe's congas loud and clear). In that respect, tape change gaps are less intrusive than they might be, instead helping to focus the attention.

And then there are the relative rarities of bassist Berry Oakley's lead vocal on Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man," in two forms, as well as the slow blues of "Outskirts of Town." Eventually to disappear from the Allmans' set lists over the coming thirteen months—prior to the milestone recording At Fillmore East (Capricorn, 1971)—in favor of Gregg Allman's singing spotlight on T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday," the discipline of those performances, the keyboardist's rambunctious vocal aggression on "Statesboro Blues" here suggests he's trying to steal some attention away from the brilliantly intuitive interplay between his sibling Duane Allman and Betts.

Financial considerations on the part of the Owsley Stanley Foundation might well have precluded release of this music in all formats simultaneously. But its distribution now is a tribute to the loyalty of the ABB community and an ever-growing legion of fans devoted to the group, now defunct with the 2017 passings of its last surviving namesake and drummer/co-founder Butch Trucks. Quite possibly spurred on by the otherwise daunting presence of the West Coast collective, these archetypal Southern rockers made a quantum leap of daring in their musicianship over the course of these three nights.

At its most dramatic peaks, the Allman Brothers Band's collective musicianship was nigh-on miraculous to behold and never more so than with its original personnel. As the septet approached the first anniversary of their formation, the accelerated process of their growth supplies only more evidence to that end.

Track Listing: CD 1: Compilation Disc - In Memory of Elizabeth Reed; Hoochie Coochie Man; Statesboro Blues; Trouble No More; Outskirts of Town; Whipping Post; Mountain Jam. CD 2: February 11, 1970 - In Memory of Elizabeth Reed; Statesboro Blues; Trouble No More; Hoochie Coochie Man; Mountain Jam (Incomplete). February 13, 1970 - In Memory of Elizabeth Reed; Outskirts of Town (Cut); Mountain Jam (Incomplete). CD 3: February 14, 1970 - In Memory of Elizabeth Reed; Hoochie Coochie Man; Outskirts of Town (Incomplete); Whipping Post; Mountain Jam (Incomplete).

Personnel: Gregg Allman: vocals, Hammond B-3 organ; Duane Allman: lead guitar, slide guitar; Dickey Betts: lead guitar; Berry Oakley: bass, vocals; Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson: drums, percussion; Butch Trucks: drums, timpani.

Title: Bear's Sonic Journals: Fillmore East February 1970 - Deluxe Edition | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: The Allman Brothers Band Recording Company

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