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Allman Brothers Band: Trouble No More: 50th Anniversary Collection

Doug Collette By

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The gold-embossed lettering on the front and back cover of the roughly 5" by 7" slipcase enclosing the Allman Brothers Band's box set Trouble No More belies its otherwise generic art work. Yet the graphic design isn't all that gives the lie to an otherwise positive first impression gleaned from 50th Anniversary Collection. A glance at the sixty-one tune track-listing plus a cursory perusal of Kirk West's stellar photos inside the eighty-eight page booklet are also somewhat deceiving: while this efficient entry into the seminal Southern rock band's lengthening discography certainly stands on its own—the only single anthology covering every phase (and all thirteen lineups) of the group's career—it is not the expansive and illuminating treasure trove of rarities combined with essential material comprising the previous such career retrospective, Dreams (Polydor, 1989).

In fact, the book-ending of near seven hours of music with two different versions of the Muddy Waters title tune is a microcosm of the concept as well as execution of this project. The opening demo version finds the young band teeming with keen confidence, while the closing cut, even as it radiates at air of triumph as the very last number played at the final October 2014 Beacon Theater show, carries with it just a whiff of ambivalence as well: perhaps that's because, for a variety of reasons, this ensemble never took an opportunity to mount any grand goodbye tour, but just as likely it's based on the band's collective wish the tune didn't have to end. And that set of mixed emotions may very well color the pleasure a music lover derives from Trouble No More, whether or not he or she is well-versed in the lore of the Brothers.

Thanks no doubt to the mastering expertise of engineer Jason NeSmith, the impeccable audio quality of 50th Anniversary Collection lends a continuity. Superior to the sonics of earlier SACD editions and comparable to the six-CD compilation The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings (UMG, 2014), there are subtle but readily discernible improvements in the sound quality of cuts ranging from the power house opening of the eponymous debut, "Don't Want You No More"/"Ain't My Cross to Bear," to trademark original songs like "Midnight Rider" off the sophomore effort Idlewild South (Capricorn, 1970, the double CD Deluxe Edition of which contains the entirety of Live at Ludlow Garage (Polydor, 1990), from whence comes this "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town." In fact, at its best, the audio is as penetrating as the musicianship here, whether in excerpts from the seminal concert album At Fillmore East (Capricorn, 1971), Dickey Betts' archetypal instrumental, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" or his "Blue Sky," one of the final studio recordings with Duane from Eat A Peach (Capricorn, 1972).

Far superior to "Jelly Jelly," the result of its subsequent metamorphosis, "Early Morning Blues," is a superb demonstration of the strength and distinction of the lineup featuring keyboardist Chuck Leavell and bassist Lamar Williams, especially as the latter's gritty r&b textures contrast the former's rollicking air on the likes of the trademark Betts instrumental "Jessica." But this otherwise splendid outtake from the sessions for Brothers and Sisters (Capricorn Records, 1973), lacks real cachet (except perhaps to casual listeners) because it was previously (albeit appropriately) included in the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (UMG, 2013), that most commercially-successful long-player album by the Allmans.

For the Allmans completist, the small percentage of previously-unreleased music in this set becomes unmistakable at junctures. As it also does with a live take on "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," recorded during the abbreviated period the Brothers toured as a quintet. Which only further highlights the absence of more content featuring the unsung hero of the Allman Brothers Band, guitarist/vocalist Jack Pearson; his spotlight on a self-composed "I'm Not Crying" also points up that there is no live material during the period of his successor, Derek Trucks, who played guitar alongside Dickey Betts in 1999 and 2000. Compensating at least somewhat for a truncated "Mountain Jam"—featuring Watkins Glen Festival co-bills, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead, alongside Robbie Robertson of The Band— there are many largely unseen photos coexisting with classic shots in the booklet, stellar examples of West's work over the years, as also published collection in Les Brers: Kirk West's Photographic Journey With The Brothers (Insight, 2016).

As they filled the five compact discs, the curators of this 50th Anniversary Collection, preeminent of whom is expert archivist Bill Levenson (who also oversaw Dreams, Eric Clapton's Crossroads (Polydor, 1988) retrospective and Cream's Live Goodbye Tour 1968 (UMG, 2020)), paid close attention to the flow and pacing of Trouble No More. As does John Lynskey in his essay covering the history of the Brothers: even as he somewhat clumsily mixes facts and largely eschews the melodrama that so often afflicted the Brothers, the essayist instead homes in on the chemistry of the core four. That bonding element was unfortunately in short supply by Win Lose or Draw (Capricorn, 1975), where Betts' balmy instrumental, "High Falls," demonstrates of the lack of unity in the band at the time. The instrumental interplay is but a shadow of the keen intensity and fluidity of other such material. In contrast, Gregg Allman sounds legitimately pained singing this Muddy Waters cover "Can't Lose What You Never Had" and delivers the woeful tale of the title tune in suitably wan fashion.

Just as that record has its moments, so does the reunion album of four years later, Enlightened Rogues (Capricorn Records, 1979). Most notable for the return of the original two-guitar alignment (albeit in a decided hierarchy of Betts and Dan Toler), the dual drumming of Jaimoe and Butch Trucks is also integral to the expansive motion within the signature instrumental "Pegasus" and while the namesake of the band faced challenges on a number of fronts (at this time, conflicts in song publishing), his stark ballad "Just Ain't Easy" is the other standout (though in this live rendition, lacking the segue into "'Liz Reed" on the earlier compendium). Likewise, a soulful rescue from an Allman solo effort, "Never Knew How Much (I Needed You)," is the highlight of the second of two misconceived ABB releases on Arista Records, unquestionably the nadir of the Allman Brothers discography.

Jimmy Hall's sax solo distinguishes that cut though and foreshadows his show-stopping sit-ins at the Beacon some years later. But Jaimoe had exited the group by the time of Brothers of the Road (Arista, 1981), after he and the late Trucks kept the overproduction at bay with their feisty interplay throughout its predecessor, Reach For The Sky (Arista, 1980). This overly-polished piece is curiously misrepresented here as both "Hell And High Water" and "Angeline" might better have been excised in favor of the sweet country-blues meld of Gregg's "Mystery Woman" as well as the dramatic instrumental of Dickey's "From The Madness of the West."

Betts flourished as a player and composer during the period following the 1989 reunion, adding honor to his legacy as a source of material for the Brothers with compositions such as "Nobody Knows," even as his guitar playing ascended to levels comparable to his days as the ABB founder's fretboard partner. It's well to note, however, that his elevated artistry was the result of mutual inspiration alongside Warren Haynes. The latter's vocals were almost as potent an addition to the Allman Brothers' sonic arsenal as was his guitar work, slide and otherwise, as well as the bass-playing of his peer in this lineup, Allen Woody. The erstwhile co-founder of Gov't Mule also collaborated regularly and fruitfully as co-author with Betts and the band's namesake Gregg whose "End of the Line" stands out as a durable song on its own terms, a reliable vehicle for involved jamming and emblematic of the brawny blues-rock sound (like the Pearson collaboration "Sailin' Across the Devil's Sea") to which this lineup returned under the aegis of Tom Dowd, their early producer of note.

Warren Haynes' 2001 return to the group following Dickey Betts' ouster galvanized ABB's membership for most of its final years. The very last studio album, Hittin' The Note (Peach, 2003), contained indisputably strong material in the form of "High Cost of Low Living" and "Desdemona," the concert cull of the latter comes from the New York run where the titular of the Mule was special guest—as well as personal expression in the form of what is perhaps Gregg's finest original, "Old Before My Time." And the Brothers included many choice cover songs in this period, most with a direct link to their history like "Loan Me A Dime:" this cull from Boz Scaggs' eponymous solo debut became famous for Duane Allman's incendiary solo and Derek Trucks follows suit, blazing away in quick succession to the fiery intensity of Jimmy Herring's deferential set up. Performed and recorded the day Allmans/Mule member Woody passed away, this now stands as the only official release documenting the current Widespread Panic guitarist's presence on the Brothers' summer 2000 tour (following Betts' ouster earlier in that year).

From the very year the momentum of this final incarnation of ABB began to flag, due to at least in part Haynes' and Trucks' respective endeavors outside the group, this 2005 acoustic duet on ""Little Martha" is heartfelt homage for Duane Allman (the only song 'Skydog' ever wrote). As is a fervent take of Elmore James' "The Sky Is Crying," it placement clearly also a direct reference to the band's long-deceased figurehead as the Elmore James blues appeared near the end of a show that, stretching four hours, concluded on the anniversary of the death of the elder Brother. Bookending these sixty-one tracks is a second version of this vault project's title tune, this last number performed by an Allman Brothers Band carrying a deservedly triumphant air that sounds like the logical (inevitable?) extension of the aforementioned opening cut.

Aware the conclusion of that performance occurred early on the anniversary of Duane Allman's tragic passing, the most knowledgeable Allman Brothers devotees may experience more than just a mild pang of bittersweet reflection. Just as likely, that's a sensation similar to that which might arise in any listeners to Trouble No More: 50th Anniversary Collection.

Track Listing

CD 1: Trouble No More; Don’t Want You No More/It’s Not My Cross To Bear; Dreams; Whipping Post; I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town; Midnight Rider; Revival; Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’; Hoochie Coochie Man; . Please Call Home; Statesboro Blues; Stormy Monday; In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed; CD 2: One Way Out; You Don’t Love Me / Soul Serenade; Hot ‘Lanta; Stand Back; Meliss a;Blue Sky; Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More; Wasted Words; Ramblin’ Man; Southbound; Jessica; Early Morning Blues: CD 3: Come And Go Blues; Mountain Jam; Can’t Lose What You Never Had; Win, Lose Or Draw; High Falls; Crazy Love; Can’t Take It With You; Pegasus; Just Ain’t Easy; Hell & High Water; Angeline; Leavin’; Never Knew How Much (I Needed You); CD 4: Good Clean Fun; Seven Turns; Gambler’s Roll; End Of The Lin; Nobody Knows; Low Down Dirty Mean; Come On Into My Kitchen; Sailin’ ‘Cross The Devil’s Sea; Back Where It All Begins; Soulshine; No One To Run With; I’m Not Crying. CD 5: Loan Me A Dime; Desdemona; High Cost Of Low Living; Old Before My Time; Blue Sky; Little Martha; Black Hearted Woman; The Sky Is Crying; Farewell speeches;Trouble No More.

Personnel

Duane Allman: guitar; Gregg Allman: guitar; Dickey Betts: guitar, electric; Berry Oakley: bass, electric; Butch Trucks: drums; Jaimoe: drums; Chuck Leavell: keyboards; Lamar Williams: bass, electric; Jimmy Herring: guitar; Jack Pearson: clarinet; Oteil Burbridge: bass; Derek Trucks: guitar; Warren Haynes: guitar; Jerry Garcia: guitar, electric; Bob Weir: guitar; Robbie Robertson: guitar; David Goldflies: bass, electric; Bonnie Bramlett: voice / vocals; Allen Woody: bass, electric; Jimmy Hall: saxophone.

Thomas Caine: background vocals; Mike Lawler: keyboards; Johnny Neel: keyboards, vocals; Thom Doucette: harmonica; Jim Essery: harmonica; Frankie Toler: drums, percussion.

Album information

Title: Trouble No More: 50th Anniversary Collection | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Universal Music Group

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