Gregg Allman’s ‘Laid Back,’ a masterpiece re-mastered
Gregg Allman recorded his first solo album, “Laid Back,” in 1972 while The Allman Brothers Band was wrapping up Brothers and Sisters. Both LPs were produced with a meticulous, welcoming touch by Johnny Sandlin at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia, and both introduced the stellar piano playing of 20 year-old ace, Chuck Leavell.
The sudden death of trailblazing guitarist Duane Allman the year prior prompted younger brother Gregg to immerse himself in song. Almost five decades later, “Laid Back” endures as a pinnacle of charming, sturdy, and purely Southern rhythm and blues. It differs completely, by design, from the intense blues, rock and jazz blend for which the Allman Brothers had been known.
Each song — a mix of Gregg Allman originals and key adaptations — makes a distinctive impact by way of Allman’s smoky, melodious brogue, and by the superior musicians on hand. The songs quelled Allman’s pain, and express it eloquently for his audience.
The album begins with “Midnight Rider,” one of Allman’s signature compositions. He recorded it as he originally intended it to sound here, like drifting beside a swamp, the music enigmatic and heated, and as dissimilar to the earlier Allman Brothers take as night is to the day. “Queen of Hearts” then stuns by its beauty. The shifting, swinging tempos, lush strings, David “Fathead” Newman’s jazzy sax solo, and Allman’s exemplary singing, all result in an absolutely irresistible love song. “Please Call Home,” which moves from placidity to soaring, gospel-inflected soul, leads into the piano-led, rowdy R&B of “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing.”
And so it goes, the album ending with Allman’s gorgeous, full-on gospel interpretation of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” complete with a choir of celebrants. The plethora of extra songs — 26 in all appended to the original eight-song album includes demos, rehearsals, alternate versions, and several that didn’t make it onto “Laid Back.”
Allman’s own “God Rest His Soul,” written for Martin Luther King, and his take on Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone” (aka “Catfish Blues”), are particularly valuable — just Gregg Allman alone on guitar, and in haunting voice. The singer-songwriter that Allman always yearned to be shines brightly in solo takes of his good friend Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” which appears in a beautifully adorned version on “Laid Back,” and in Browne’s “Shadow Dream Song,” which does not.
Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton of the band Cowboy played shimmering guitars on Laid Back. Boyer’s “All My Friends” appears as an austere demo, besides the grandiose, slightly countrified album version. The re-mastering makes every fine nuance of instrumentation and voice stand out clearly, and all the extras provide fascinating insight into the making of Gregg Allman’s masterpiece.
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.
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