Finding themselves

By Sergio Ariza

In February of 1970, the Allman Brothers went into the studio to record their 2nd album. The sessions were squeezed into the few dates they had open between their uncountable concerts. The band’s leader Duane Allman used these gigs to try out new material provided by his brother Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts, making arrangements on the fly.

The material was getting better, and more and more sophisticated, and it was the first time Betts was bringing his own songs. One record in particular enthused the entire band, A Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis from 1959, his influence would give a new dimension to the band, separating them from the rest of blues/rock groups of the day. The live shows were still their strong card, but this time the moment had come to take this magic to the recording studio.

The record begins with Duane and Dickey playing perfectly harmonised guitars on Revival, a song that for over 90 seconds seems like one of their typical instrumentals until it turns into a kind of hippy/gospel singing “people can you feel it, love is everywhere”. It’s a good introductory letter to the record and the band itself, approaching the modal jazz innovations and later with a much more Southern, catchy bit.

Don't Keep Me Wonderin' is the perfect platform for Duane to shine on his slide while brother Gregg shows how great a singer he is, but of course it is the older brother who dazzles with more force, carrying his slide to incredible levels of expression and feeling. In Midnight Rider Duane’s acoustic carries the song, although Betts plays lead giving it that country flavour, like a pedal steel, which he would often use in the future. It is one of Gregg’s best compositions which he would rescue for his debut solo album in 1973, and by the Allman’s in general.

Yet, maybe the most important song on the record is the jazzy instrumental In Memory of Elizabeth Reed by Betts, showing the amazing musicality of each and every one of the band members. It’s a musical merry-go-round with Dickey and Duane taking turns emulating Miles Davis and John Coltrane, their clear inspiration for the number. The song serves as the heart of the album, with a great ‘groove’ by the rhythm section and excellent work by the three soloists, first Betts on his ‘61 SG, then Gregg whose Hammond is smoking and ending, with the usual mastery, is Duane with his Goldtop from ‘57. It’s the perfect closure for an absolutely glorious A side.

Side B lowers the level a bit, yet keeps the skill intact, first his cover of Hoochie Coochie Man with bassman Berry Oakley on lead vocals for the first and last time in his career. It’s a cover packed with punch but sounds very much like what Johnny Winter was doing at the time. The record closes with 2 songs by Gregg, the lovely Please Call Home, with more remarkable guitar work by Duane, and the bluesy Leave My Blues at Home.

The Allman Brothers had surpassed their remarkable debut record with a studio album where their own compositions gave them a new step forward, adding Dickely Betts into the mix. If we also say they kept sounding like no-one else when they did it together, the result is the best studio record they ever put out. Duane Allman was at the top of his game, it was around that time when he recorded the wonderful Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs alongside Eric Clapton, and the band had found themselves and were preparing to deliver their definitive record, this time in a place where they would best find their identity and develop further, live in front of their audience.