Gregg Allman Live-Back to Macon, GA
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Anyone would have given the frontman of the Allman Brothers Band a sabbatical from performing after the longstanding group called it quits last year. After all, between solo tours and work with the Brothers, Gregg Allman has been grinding it out on the road for over forty years. After recent health problems including lung surgery, a liver transplant, hepatitis C all on top of a life of booze and drugs (he’s been clean for a while now) also don’t bode well for Allman’s stamina as he pushes 70. But like the blues legends that initially influenced him, Allman keeps plugging away. And, judging from the rousing 90 minute concert he delivers on this double CD/DVD package, has arguably improved with age.
Recorded at a single gig in January, 2014 in the titular city where it all started for the Allman Brothers Band four decades ago, Gregg mixes rearranged gems from his old group along with solo material, some cool soul covers and even a new song into a set that highlights his diversity and love of R&B and blues. His eight piece backing unit includes three horn players working taut arrangements that steep the material in a Memphis styled soulful grit. With only one guitarist, the sound is less rock oriented than the ABB. This helps make even warhorses like “Whipping Post,” “Statesboro Blues” and “Midnight Rider,” classics Allman has sung at almost every gig since the early 70s, seem fresh and stirring in this environment.
Oddly, Allman only reprises one selection from his newest, well received, T-Bone Burnett album of blues covers (a second tune is included in the DVD’s extras) but this includes everything you would expect to hear. He revisits the Ray Charles nugget “Brightest Smile in Town,” digs into Wilson Pickett’s “I’ve Found a Love” and rocks out on “Love like Kerosene,” a recent composition written by guitarist Scott Sharrard. Allman is in inspired voice, he’s clearly having a blast leading his talented musicians and even the oldest material feels revitalized. Perhaps we could have done without the 5 minute drum and bass solo section on the closing “One Way Out,” but with son Devon Allman joining on guitar, that’s a small detriment to a scorching version.
Short interview segments on the DVD are concise and informative and the camerawork is professional yet subtle and appropriately laid back. The elder Allman plays nearly as much guitar as organ, likely due to a terrific pianist Ben Stivers who is nearly as impressive as Chuck Leavell on the keys, but that’s also a welcome change. However, why the two extra songs tacked on as DVD bonuses aren’t added to the audio discs is unclear, especially since one is a brilliantly bluesy “Stormy Monday.”
Regardless, this is a glorious “hittin’ the note” performance with no weak spots. It shows Allman not only hasn’t lost any steps musically, but he just may be near the top of his game.