It's a daunting task just to follow in the footsteps of a bonafide legend of American music, in the case of Duane Betts, his father Dickey, co-founder, guitarist and major composer for The Allman Brothers Band. But the offspring is taking his sweet time enaging in follow-up on that estimable legacy of Southern rock with this approximately forty-minute EP, further elevating his public profile in line with tours on a bill with Devon Allman after a stellar stint on the road with Dawes in 2015.
Given the bluesy likes of "Downtown Runaround," this record's title might otherwise be overstatement of the obvious were it not for the contemporary structuring of such a song. Certainly the debt to early Lynyrd Skynyrd is all too clear here, but Betts and company eschew aimless riffing for some tantalizing improvisation before the track (all too briefly) concludes. This occurs after the speedy Rolling Stones-derived rock and roll of "Taking Time." Duane sounds eerily like his father as he sings "When We Get Home." His slightly nasal vocal tones conjure a doleful mood offset with the brighter chiming of electric guitars, just before the man named after "Skydog" Allman unreels a well-wrought guitar solo seasoned with just the slightest touch of country.
Guitar hero-worshipers might long for more such sounds than populate these six cuts, but the young(er) Betts seems to have the right instincts when it comes to distinguishing stage work from the studio, attributes no doubt nurtured by the selected presence of guitarists Marc Hannaford (The Black Crowes) and Steve Cropper (Booker T. and the MG's). In both contexts, of course, economy is priceless in both playing and arranging, but, unfortunately, "California Blues" contains neither of those virtues; certainly not a song indicative of the stellar work of the same author of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," "Jessica" and "Ramblin' Man," its pedestrian changes are as predictable as its lyrical rhymes. Even the slide guitar can't redeem it, that is, until the tempo slows and the melody lifts, leaving an expectant, bittersweet air.
That vivid atmosphere sets the stage nicely for the acoustic balladeering of "Think I'm Doing Well." It's a cut well-sequenced in the wake of the largely upbeat content preceding it and equally well-positioned as a set-up to the closer "Ride It Out," which recalls Dickey Betts' compositions in the best possible way: the verses don't so much set up choruses as instrumental breaks that say more than words. The mix including acoustic and electric guitars here suggests one of the most treasured traditions in contemporary rock and blues may be in the hands of someone who not only appreciates its value, but may also have the talent(s) to do it justice.
Taking Time; Downtown Runaround; When We Get Home; Think I’m Doing Well; California Blues; Ride it Out.
Duane Betts: guitar, vocal; Stoll Vaughan: acoustic guitar; Johnny Stachela: guitar; Pedro Arevalo: lap steel; John Thomas: keyboards; Steve Taylor: keyboards, backing vocals; Sebastian Ciceri: bass; Adam Levy: bass; Paul Ill: bass; Damon Webb: bass; Demian Arriage: drums; Vince Fossett Jr.: drums; Demian Arriage: drums; Marc Ford: drums; Antoine Arvizu: drums; John Spiker: backing vocals.
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