The Allman Brothers Band last recorded a studio album of new material in 1994 ( Where It All Begins, on Epic). Since that time, the band fired original member Dickey Betts and added Butch Truck’s nephew, Derek, plus the exquisite bassist, Oteil Burbridge. This nominal lineup appeared on Peakin’ at the Beacon to the reserved glee of this writer. With Betts gone, only three original members of the band remain and do you, gentle reader, understand what that means?
Not a damn thing.
Hittin’ the Note
is the best studio recording by the Allman Brothers Band since Eat a Peach. The major reason is Derek Trucks, who is a virtuoso slide guitarist of the highest order. It is very obvious that Mr. Trucks studied Live at the Fillmore East very carefully as his slide guitar tone, attack, and approach are well grounded in the style of the late Duane Allman. But the young Mr. Trucks is not content to be a mere imitation; his talent elevates him to a technical superiority to his tutor by proxy.
A critic once opined that Duane Allman could play with Muddy Waters, but Lowell George could play with Thelonious Monk. Well, no, it is Derek Trucks who could play with Thelonious Monk. I submit that he is the first significant jazz slide guitarist as evidenced by this recording and his solo recordings.
But the disc is not all Derek Trucks. Gregg Allman sings and plays with a renewed dedication and drive spurred on by the younger members of the band, specifically Trucks and bassist Oteil Burbridge. Warren Haynes serves as a perfect foil to Trucks, but neither is a Dickey Betts... and that's okay. Their guitar interplay recalls, but does not copy, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and "Whipping Post." For the best example of this, cue up "Instrumental Illness." The two guitarists sound like a trumpet-tenor saxophone hard bop front. As a vocalist, Haynes spits grief on "Woman Across the River," where he laments bad choices and broken promises.
The foundation of the band remains the twin drum attack of Butch Trucks and J. Jaimoe Johnson, who recall Fillmore East on the centerpiece, "Desdemona," arguably the most jazz-oriented piece on the record. The two drummers play in throbbing unison, propelling the band. The group brilliantly covers the Rolling Stones’ "Heart of Stone," taking the classic, filtering it through Muscle Shoals and then Stax to achieve a totally new take of English blues.
While many bands from the early 1970s are content to rest on their laurels and regurgitate their old material, the Allman Brothers Band – rock music’s true phoenix – produces some of its most necessary music.
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