A final bow

By Tom MacIntosh

Southern Blood is the 8th and final album recorded by American rock/blues legend Gregg Allman, released on september 8 of 2017, it was recorded in march fall of 2016, several months before his death from liver cancer in May 2017. The album has been described as, “An exceptional  work and arguably the best non-Brothers release.from American Songwriter. The Associated Press commented, “The album soars with arrangements built to spotlight Allman’s singing...it reminds us of what a singular talent we just lost.”.

The record was supposed to contain all new original material, but due to his failing health, it was decided to do cover work instead. It was recorded in just 9 days, at the mythic Fame  Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where he and his brother Duane Allman used to rehearse back ‘in the day’. It was produced by eclectic wizard Don Was, who had collaborated with people such as, Carole King, Elton John, The B52s, and Iggy Pop, to name just a few. The songs chosen were a reflection of his life; a farewell album. Each song was to tell a story close to his heart, starting with the only original song, co-written by Allman and band leader Scott Sharrard, a bluesy My Only True Friend, a beautiful ballad, very much like the man himself, private, reserved, yet complex, “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone...I can’t bear to think that this is the end, we both know that the road is my only true friend”, which illustrate his awareness that time was running short. Then Tim Buckleys Once I Was, again a haunting rendition that speaks of life’s journey. The 3rd track covers Bob Dylans Going Going Gone, something of a bittersweet acceptance of his fate, “Now I just got to cut loose, before it gets late…”.

However it’s not all solemn and dreary, he does a rousing take on I Love the Life I Live, by Willie Dixon. A soulful blues number with a wind section punctuating the groove. A gem of a song. Black Muddy River, by the Grateful Dead, is a slow winding meditation on ageing, and was a reluctant entry on the record because Allman felt the writing style was too different, but he eventually took to the song, and accepted it. His choice of Willin’, a classic by Little Feat, is a wistful stroll through what can be considered an ode to the road, (of life?), and encapsulates the southern lifestyle where he grew up (Nashville). He brings out the pedal steel guitar on this one, deliciously sprinkled with honky tonky ivories. He covers another Sharrard number, Love Like Kerosene that simply rocks.

Each cover on this record shines in its own fashion, they spell out the South’s cultural DNA, and Allman’s roots. He is often boxed into the ‘rocker’ category but he was also moved by jazz and blues, knitting them into his work, which made The Allman Brothers so unique. The last song on the record was written by Jackson Browne, Song for Adam (on which he also plays), that displays the excellent quality of a collaboration that may have been his last.

There’s a story behind the title, Southern Blood, that must be mentioned as an oddity; according to his daughter Layla, her father had a work of art called Gravity, by artist Vincent Castiglia, who would use his own blood in his creations, so, she got to meet him, and they considered something the same on a portrait of Gregg inside the LP’s sleeve. They approached Gregg with the idea and he agreed, he sent Castiglia vials of his own blood, and voila! A lithograph was made, and the record had a name.

Southern Blood is a wonderfully cohesive album, from bluesmen to singer-songwriters, to southern rockers and country. This was Gregg Allman’s final bow, a beautiful bookend to an outstanding Hall of Fame career.