Album review: Allman Betts Band’s debut a birth, not a revival
Great expectations and an abundance of hype are both inevitable when a band debuts headed by the sons of Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley — three of the six founders of The Allman Brothers Band. Fortunately for all, the Allman Betts Band traveled South well prepared, and came back up with “Down to the River,” an entirely captivating first album of eight new, sweeping rockers, plus a beautifully delivered, profound salute to Southern customs via Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents.”
In every song, the new “ABB” lays claim to a monumental legacy with absolute class, all the while standing firmly, and getting down, on its own mossy turf.
“All Night” kicks it off on a crackling riff, igniting a sprawl of full-blooded, swampy rock that immediately — and rightly — highlights the striking talents of Duane Betts and Johnny Stachela. The two guitarists interact with one another, and their mates—singer/guitarist Devon Allman, bassist Berry Oakley Jr., keyboardist John Ginty, percussionist R. Scott Bryan, and drummer John Lum — to project riveting complexity and natural soul at every turn.
Recorded live on vintage equipment at the fabled Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama, the nine varied melodies radiate classic warmth, and feisty, forward drive.
“Shinin’” rolls and shakes and lights up the room like the love in the lover’s eyes that Betts sings of in his country-reedy, familial voice. Brooding, bluesy passion nowadays comes easy for Devon Allman. In “Down to the River,” he sings in a deep, velvety pitch all his own — far and away dissimilar to his dad’s. He’s relaxed throughout the album, and thus as soulful as the steamy music that envelops him. Allman absolutely convinces when he opines that these are days to celebrate, right now, in “Good Old Days.” With Stachela ringing out on slide guitar, and Rolling Stone Chuck Leavell — originally an Allman Brother — adding his grand style to the joyous song, one thinks of the best of the past when it comes to real, honest rock music.
Signs do flare throughout, but one obvious, direct electrical current leading back to The Allman Brothers Band arrives on “Autumn Breeze.” Written and performed in the illustrious country-jazz style of Dickey Betts, the guitar couplets gleam and take flight amid orchestral magnificence. “Long Gone” closes the album as if an eloquent farewell, Betts and Allman singing reflectively and Betts and Stachala playing in stylish tandem like Brothers, with Stachela even singing bird calls with his strings and slide, recalling Duane Allman from all those years ago.
“Down to the River” signifies a strong birth — not a revival—that justifies the buildup, and satisfies all expectations. The Allman Betts Band couldn’t have done this any better.
— Tom Clarke
The Allman Betts Band‘Down To The River’Release: June 28, 2019
ABOUT Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 23 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos.
Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage.
Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.