Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Duane Allman - An Anthology

I know that many think that the Allman Brothers are simply boring, classic-southern-rock, but in their early days with Duane, they created some kick-ass southern-blues music and Duane was a superb player. This anthology shows off his studio work before the Brothers hit big.

This two record (and now 2-CD) set, opens with pre-Allman Brothers band, Hourglass, with Duane taking lead vocals as well as guitar for an inspired "B.B.King Medley", showing that he studied hard with the masters. He also managed to sit in with some giants, such as Wilson Pickett with "Hey Jude" (supposedly, this was Duane's idea - since he couldn't read music, this was a song that he knew and the other studio musicians - mostly black - didn't!), in which he does such a spectacular job that he came to the attention of none other than Eric Clapton - thereby leading him into the Derek and the Dominos sessions later.

Clarence Carter's "The Road of Love" is a drivin' piece of groovy funk'n'roll where Duane displays his slide prowess and amazing tone. "Goin' Down Slow" was a solo demo of Duane's, where he fashions a slow blues not unlike some later Allman Brother tunes. Some more fantastic slide playing highlights Aretha Franklin's version of "The Weight", though the guitar on King Curtis' "Games People Play" is a lot less prominent (understandably, as it is Kurtis' show). John Hammond's "Shake For Me" is an upbeat, groove-alicious dance tune with tasteful bottleneck throughout - kind of cool how so much of Duane's session work made use of his slide talents - apparently, he made a name for himself in this realm early on.

The slow, sultry, organ-dominated blues of Boz Scaggs' "Loan Me a Dime" is one of the top numbers of this set - just fantastic through-and-through, from Boz's emotional vocals, to the understated backing, to the cool horn section, to the dynamics and the fine guitar playing. The ending "jam" builds in intensity with keys, horn and guitars all taking solos in a fantastic head-shakin', rock'n'rollin' journey that disappoints when it fades away. Thankfully, you can catch your breath with the equally great, but somewhat less intense, acoustic version of Muddy Waters' "Rollin' Stone" by Johnny Jenkins with Duane continuing to impress with his Coricidin bottle.

Delaney, Bonnie & Friends' "Livin' on the Open Road" is one of my favorite numbers of theirs - good, high-energy rock'n'roll - and Johnny Jenkins' returns with "Down Along the Cove", which rocks a little less frantically, but in a similar vein. I'm not familiar with the group Cowboy, but their acoustic, country-ish "Please Be With Me" sounds a lot like some of the mellower Allman tracks, and lets Duane show that he is equally comfortable with acoustic as well as electric. "Mean Old World" is Duane dueting with Eric Clapton on acoustics, which moves into their most famous collaboration, "Layla", with Duane contributing the iconic opening lick, along with his moving slide work.

From there on, we get several Allman Brother cuts - "Statesboro Blues", "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'", "Stand Back", "Dreams" and "Little Martha". Truthfully, while this stuff is still good, I prefer the session work, just for its variety and great tunes. All-in-all, a terrific package showing the talents of one of the best electric slide players to grace our planet.