Eleven months after singer/guitarist Devon Allman and guitarist/singer Duane Betts joined forces on a tour with their individual bands, they formed The Allman Betts Band. With bassist Berry Duane Oakley joining in, one couldn’t help but wonder if this new ABB would ride on the laurels of fathers Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley of the original Allman Brothers Band.
Rounded out by Johnny Stachela on slide guitar, drummer John Lum, percussionist R. Scott Bryan and keyboardist John Ginty, they instead set themselves apart splendidly on their debut, “Down To The River.”
Just a year later now, they’re mature, confident and absolutely stunning on “Bless Your Heart.” Allman and Betts once again co-wrote remarkably engaging songs with the acclaimed singer/songwriter Stoll Vaughan and the band tracked the album analog to tape at Muscle Shoals in Alabama. They certainly stretched themselves, the diversity playing out warmly and irresistibly.
Like The Allman Brothers Band, The Allman Betts Band plays music rooted in the South. But for the most part, it reaches for the sky in directions far away from the blues, toward wide-open, spirited Americana.
Opening with the black, brilliant “Pale Horse Rider” does not at all set a tone, but it surely displays daring. Allman makes an impact in voice right off, having come a long way with his combination of husky soul and pitched gospel. Betts also sings lead, in a reedy tenor similar to that of his dad.
With several backing singers on hand, the songs are afforded a wealth of color beyond that of the rich instrumentation. Susan Marshall and Reba Russell’s harmonies thrill during the high-rising, deeply cascading “Carolina Song,” while Stachela’s slide solos scream to the heavens. The hustler’s tale “King Crawler” barrels fast, calling to mind old Memphis R&B.
Former Gregg Allman Band member Art Edmaiston stokes the engine with burning sax. “Ashes of My Lovers” evokes the American West with exotic underpinnings, guests Jimmy Hall on moonlit-moaning harp and Shannon McNally in waiflike voice, solidifying the feeling.
“Savannah’s Dream” makes for a beautiful centerpiece. The galloping, 12-minute Betts instrumental was certainly written in tribute to Dickey Betts and The Allman Brothers Band and its beautiful jazz intricacies allow each player to shine brightly. “Magnolia Road,” a catchy, slippery rocker penned by Vaughan alone, touches on Allman’s and Betts’ upbringings through both their voices, and also nods to the Allman Brothers and the period they peaked on the charts.
A magnificent, old-style rock album, “Bless Your Heart” stakes a claim while perfectly fulfilling the proverb, Honor Thy Father.
- The Allman Betts Band
- ‘Bless Your Heart’
- Label: BMG
- Release: Aug. 28, 2020