Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Allman Brothers Band - Hittin' the Note

After Warren Haynes and Allen Woody left the Allman Brothers to concentrate full-time on Gov’t Mule, things got confused for the Allman Brothers.  They got Jack Pearson to replace Warren and Otiel Burbridge to replace Allen Woody.  This line-up lasted for a couple of years, and then Jack Pearson had to bow out.  He was replaced by Derek Trucks, Butch’s nephew who is a slide guitar savant who channels Duane Allman.  Then things got vey confused.  After a tour in the spring of 2000, Gregg, Butch and Jaimoe informed Dickey that his services would not be required for touring that summer.  Dickey drank a lot, his playing got sloppy, and he was not easy to get along with.  They told Dickey to take some time off to get help for his addictions and he could rejoin them when he got better.  Dickey didn’t see it that way, and the temporary separation became a divorce when Dickey sued the other three.  With Dickey gone, the Brothers got Jimmy Herring to take his place.  Jimmy toured with the Brothers that summer, but when the Brothers offered him a permanent slot in the band, Jimmy declined.

During all this time, Gov’t Mule was doing fairly well.  They made three studio records [Gov’t Mule, Dose, Life Before Insanity], two live albums [Live at the Roseland Ballroom, Live…With a Little Help From Out Friends], and toured a lot.  Warren Haynes teamed up with Jimmy Herring and toured a lot with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh in the group Phil Lesh & Friends.  Then tragedy struck – Allen Woody died in a New York hotel in August 2000.  The cause of death was never released.  Gov’t Mule were without a bass player.  The Allman Brothers were down a guitar player.  Guess who Butch called?  Yup – Warren Haynes.  Warren rejoined the band to play the Beacon run as a guest to see how things were since he left in 1997.  He liked what he saw and rejoined permanently.  Warren and Gregg wrote a bunch of new songs and hit the road.  These new songs, with a few older songs, became the album we now know as Hittin’ the Note.  The title comes from Berry Oakley.  It was his description of how the band played in the old days when they were all “on.”  This is the first album to feature both Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, and also the first without Dickey Betts.

Worried Down With the Blues – A dry-run for Hittin’ the Note written by Allen Woody and Warren Haynes, this song was in Allman Brothers setlists as far back as 1996.  On The Deep End Volume 1 [2001], Warren gives us a preview of what the Allman Brothers sounds like with Derek Trucks.  Derek, Otiel Burbridge (bass) and Gregg Allman (Hammond B-3, vocals) all guest on this cut, with Gregg taking the vocals on the second verse.  Gregg steals the show.  The Allman Brothers later added this song to their canon by recording it for the live One Way Out album.   

And now for Hittin’ the Note

Firing Line –The opening salvo on Hittin’ the Note, the band bursts out of the gate with all guns blazing.  Warren and Derek both play slide.   Gregg is in fine vocal form.  Gregg Allman, of all people, advises a younger person to clean up his act.  Gregg’s been clean and sober since 1996.  Change your life’s direction, get off the firing line… 

High Cost of Low Living – this one continues the theme from Firing LineYou been chasing each dream with whiskey, from here to Tokyo, using up all your real friends with places left to go…  Given the band’s nasty divorce from Dickey Betts, is Gregg singing to his former partner in crime here?  The high cost of low living is bound to put you six feet in the ground… Great interplay between Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes.

Desdemona – a nine-minute minor chord blues that has shades of Gregg’s Queen of Hearts with the ¾ time signature.  This is blues with a jazz twist.  Warren and Derek make a great guitar tandem.  Tempo changes in mid-song just like in the old days.  Gregg shows why he’s one of the finest blues singers of this or any other time.  I make my livin’ pouring out my pain, tryin’ to make it through another day…My soul’s is empty as the sky…

Woman Across the River – a cover of a Freddie King song sung by Warren.  I can take it or leave it, but it’s ok.

Old Before My Time – this is the most emotionally intense song, both lyrically and musically, on Hittin’ the Note.  This is the Gregg Allman story told in five minutes, and told very well.  Warren’s slide solo almost sounds like his guitar is crying. Given that Gregg didn’t like Dickey Betts’ country leanings, its ironic this song sounds almost country-ish.  This is the best song on the album, and with all the high quality songs on Hittin’ the Note, that’s an accomplishment!  On par with Melissa from Eat a Peach – that’s how good Old Before My Time is.

Who to Believe – this is sort of an update to Whipping Post, only Gregg doesn’t feel like dying.  The usual themes of “are you cheating or not?”

Maydell – the shortest song on Hittin’ the Note at 4:35, this one is a Warren Haynes/Johnny Neel leftover from Seven Turns. Not bad, but not essential either.

Heart of Stone – the Allman Brothers cover the Rolling Stones.  This was in their setlists during the spring tour in 1995.  Very bluesy.  Mick and Keith would be proud.

Rockin’ Horse – this is the same song that didn’t make it onto Where It All Begins and done by Gov’t Mule on their eponymous debut.  Here it’s given the Allman Brothers treatment with one organ, two guitarists, and three drummers.   It’s about twice as long as the Gov’t Mule original.

Instrumental Illness – this is the first instrumental to appear on an Allman Brothers album not written by Dickey Betts.  Co-written by Warren and bassist Otiel Burbridge, this twelve-minute excursion is very jazzy in the same vein as Kind of Bird from Shades of Two Worlds.

Old Friend – I first heard this song when Chris Anderson opened for the Allman Brothers at the Classic Amphitheatre in Richmond, VA.  Matt Abts [Gov’t Mule] was his drummer, and Warren joined him on-stage to play this song.  Co-written with Warren, this appeared on Anderson’s Old Friend album, on which Warren also played.  On Hittin’ the Note, Warren and Derek play it as an old-time acoustic blues.  This is the only Allman Brothers song to not feature an original member.

To date, Hittin’ the Note has been the last studio album from the Allman Brothers.  Will they make another one?  They are not signed to any record label.  Warren has Gov’t Mule and is touring this year behind a soul album recorded under his own name [Man in Motion].  Derek Trucks has a new band with his wife, Susan Tedeschi.  They have a new album out titled Revelator.  Gregg Allman is touring behind his first solo album in 14 years [Low Country Blues].  Right now the Allman Brothers Band is the side project for these guys.  As of now they are content to play shows every summer, all of which they record and release to the public.  I hope they record something new, but I don’t see it happening.

What do I think of Hittin’ the Note?  It’s their best album since Brothers and Sisters [1973].  Given that the three albums they recorded for Epic [Seven Turns, Shades of Two Worlds, Where It All Begins] were all of high quality, that’s a bold statement, but the music backs up that statement.  If this is to be their last album, it’s the best way to call it a career.

No comments:

Post a Comment