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“DD Review: The Allman Betts Band – Down to the River.”

Score: 7.5/10

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In Cameron Crowe’s ’70s rock biopic Almost Famous, the rock god pecking order takes a distinct turn: the lead guitarist is actually seen as the megastar of the group, which in this case is the fictitious act of Stillwater [1], the lead singer and the rest of the band then sort of playing second fiddle thereto. The act of listening to Down to the River, then, might help to, at least not fully explain, perhaps make it a tad less murky as to why this would have once a long time ago encompassed the prevailing rock hierarchy.

But for all its merit, this Allman Betts album, which features Gregg Allman’s son Devon on primary vocals and guitar and Dickie Betts’ son (so sons of two members of the original The Allman Brothers Band) Duane on sporadic lead vocals and auxiliary guitar, seems nothing if not anachronistic. On “Autumn Breeze,” which unfurls in fact a third vocalist on the album, Joanne Shaw Taylor, the plaint is simple, true, a throwback to a more pastoral time: “This old world’s gone crazy / Or have I gone insane / I just don’t know / My grandfather raised me / On whisky rock and roll / And a fishing pole”. So despite that this female cameo doesn’t mark the regular vocalist on the album, her words seem to sum up the message here: there’s a lot we’re missing in these hurried, restless new times we’re living in, not least of which is the modus operandi of a classic rock band with a lifespan cut tragically short by the motorcycle accident of lead guitarist Duane Allman of 1971.

Short of getting too analytical about this project which is obviously the work of some young men who are on a pretty commendable mission (and who started touring together in 2017 in San Fran, as reports, billboard.com), I’ll just say that the songs, which stretch in the length from four to about nine minutes, were for the most part enjoyable for the honest, direct lyricism and the incredible (arguably to rival Duane Allman) guitar virtuosity of Devon Allman. My favorites, out of the nine, were tracks one, five and nine, which I suppose is a testament to the album’s sequencing. In terms of sound, it’s again very comparable to the Southern Rock bastions from whence they spawn, sometimes tamping itself up into a Black Crowes-approximating chordal thickness or taking on the surreal, metallic sheen of My Morning Jacket at the end of “Lay Low,” an awesome song in all regards. A couple failures I thought were the unsure, undeveloped “Try” and the corny “Good Ol’ Days,” but when this groups lets its instrumentation do the talking, it crafts something really undeniable and the aching, real emotion is at legitimate play on these sessions, without question.

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[1] Many believe the band to be based on the real life Led Zeppelin, with the cinematic character at one point uttering “I am a golden god,” a bit of histrionics that Robert Plant, per certain prevalent rumors, once pulled.

 

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