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Younger Brothers: The Allman Joys, Hourglass, Duane & Gregg

Doug Collette By

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In somewhat belated recognition and celebration of the fifty year anniversary of the formation of The Allman Brothers Band in March of 1969, something of a beehive of activity arose during the first quarter of 2020. Not coincidentally, most of it circles around what used to be one of, if not the most, significant junctures of any given year for the latter-day ABB, that is, the perennial runs of concerts at New York City's Beacon Theater. In lieu of such a string (which ended in 2014 as the band called it quits later that year at the same venue), a Madison Square Garden concert in early March featured former members of the group. Nearly coincidental with that occasion, a new anthology of previously-released and never-before-available recordings, Trouble No More (UMG, 2020), spanned the Southern blues-rock icons' career. Now, in the wake of those events, the group has seen fit to issue early work of the namesakes of the group on CD and vinyl. In keeping with the later years of the Allman Brothers, it's a mixed bag, with flashes of brilliance embedded within the (overly-?) familiar and/or tangentially compelling content. It might be fair to say ABB deserve better than this, except that the group suffered from a concerted lack of pragmatic, forward-thinking business leadership virtually throughout its existence, so these titles, such as they are, simply maintain a longstanding tradition (like the ill-conceived and executed Fillmore West '71 package (ABB Recording Co., 2019)

The Allman Joys
Early Allman
The Allman Brothers Band Recording Company
2020

Except for some flashes of promise, The Allman Joys sound virtually indiscernible from the hastily-conceived and promoted bands (sic) of its mid-to-late Sixties era. Furthermore, Early Allmans belies its somewhat esteemed recording location (at Bradley's Barn in Nashville) and its co-producer of some comparable renown (John D. Loudermilk author of "Tobacco Road"). Given the running time of these CD's—thirty-seven minutes in this case—combining the four titles on two discs might better clarify the distinction between the formative work and the Brothers' later efforts (as did the four-CD box Dreams (Polydor, 1989). In marked contrast to the surrounding folk-rock leanings in this collection, the blues roots are readily apparent here on "Spoonful," yet its two and a half minute duration hardly allows for much exploration. Likewise, the consciously commercial bent of the production only allows hints of Gregg's burgeoning vocal skills: it's a tribute to his soulful side he stands out as much as he does.

Hourglass
Eponymous
The Allman Brothers Band Recording Company
2020

With this packaging mere replication of original vinyl releases, the resulting microscopic fonts on these compact discs might've carried over to the inner sleeves to allow for at least contextual information (as on the early Nineties issues which also contain photos and graphics). But there's precious little additional content here, much less practical details, for instance, about the nature and extent of the remastering credited to Tom Lewis (did he work from the original masters ?). The studio supervision here courtesy of Dallas Smith conjures up an overly-sweet confection that's almost wholly anonymous even with session players gone in favor of a bonafide band (including future Capricorn Studios stalwarts, drummer Johnny Sandlin and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Paul Hornsby). The continued emphasis on the younger Allman's voice—much more so than on his older sibling's guitars—offsets the absence of his own compositions in favor of material from outside the group: even sources are as estimable as Jackson Browne and Goffin/ King (and to a slightly lesser extent, Curtis Mayfield) carry but a smattering of the flavor of genuine r&b the Brothers so admired.

Hourglass
Power of Love
The Allman Brothers Band Recording Company
2020

Hearing the is overtly derivative sophomore effort from Hourglass prompts the question of whether it, along with its companion pieces, are superfluous and/or redundant with the continued availability of the aforementioned comprehensively-curated set that prompted the ultimate reunion of the Brothers in contemporary form. Only the most devout Peach-heads and inveterate completists may find more than ephemeral value in the four individual sets (a demographic that may already own previous issues), while the overall archiving of these admittedly fledgling works is decidedly lackluster. More specifically in musical terms, the obvious debts to major influences—this title song sounds like a rewrite of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "My Girl"—are no more or less curious than is the inclusion of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown):" an instrumental version complete with electric sitar is as dated in its own way as the band's attire in the cover photo (over which, admittedly, they may have had no more control).

Duane & Gregg Allman
Eponymous
The Allman Brothers Band Recording Company
2020

Allmans founder and figurehead Duane Allman's guitar is virtually unrecognizable through most of the three other early Brothers titles and that remains the case here due to the effects laden upon his instrument for "Morning Dew." Fortunately, in keeping with the stripped-down nature of these nine tracks (perhaps not coincidentally evincing an audio superior to its three companion pieces), more than just vague traces of his subsequently recognizable style eventually surface on these demos by the Allmans' Florida brethren band 31st f February, headed by future Brothers band mate drummer Butch Trucks. Co-written by Gregg Allman and session producer Steve Alaimo, "Melissa" may be the most recognizable tune here, at least in the specific lore of the ABB, but "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" exhibits the musicians' nascent flair for pure blues, recorded just six months from the formation of the Brothers (a fact camouflaged by the egregious absence of pertinent historical perspective).

Special thanks to D. Scott Vanderveer for historical research

Tracks and Personnel

Early Allman

Tracks: Gotta Get Away; Oh John; Street Singer; You'll Learn Someday; Old Man River; Bell Bottom Britches; Spoonful; Stalling For Time; Doctor Fone Bone; Changing Of The Guardl: The Forest For The Trees; Northern Boundary.

Personnel: Duane Allman: lead guitar, vocals; Gregg Allman: organ, lead vocals; Bobby Dennis: rhythm guitar; Jack Jackson: rhythm guitar; Ronnie Wilkins: piano; Mike Alexander: bass; Ralph Ballinger: bass: Bob Keller: bass, harmonica; Tommy Amato: drums; Bill Connell: drums;

Hourglass (Eponymous)

Tracks: Out of the Night; Nothing But Tears; Love Makes the World Go 'Round; Cast off All My Fears I've Been Trying; No Easy Way Down; Heartbeat; So Much Love; Got to Get Away; Silently; Bells.

Personnel: Duane Allman: guitars; Gregg Allman: organ, lead vocals; Paul Hornsby: keyboards, guitars, vocals; Jessie Williard "Pete" Carr: bass; Mabron McKinley: bass; Johnny Sandlin: drums.

Power of Love

Tracks: Power of Love; Changing of the Guard; To Things Before; I'm Not Afraid; I Can Stand Alone; Down in Texas; I Still Want Your Love; Home for the Summer; I'm Hanging Up My Heart for You; Going Nowhere; Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown); Now Is the Time.

Personnel: Duane Allman: guitars; Gregg Allman: organ, piano, guitar, lead vocals; Paul Hornsby: keyboards, guitars, vocals; Jessie Williard "Pete" Carr: bass, guitar, vocals; Mabron McKinley: bass; Johnny Sandlin: drums, guitar, gong.

Duane & Gregg

Tracks: Morning Dew; God Rest His Soul; Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out; Come Down And Get Me; Melissa; I'll Change For You; Back Down Home With You; Well I Know Too Well; In The Morning When I'm Real.

Personnel: Duane Allman: lead guitar; Gregg Allman: organ, lead vocals; Scott Boyer: acoustic guitar, vocals; David Brown: bass; Butch Trucks: drums.

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