Review: The Allman Brothers Band Release A Bluesy Blast From the Past

The Allman Brothers Band/Down in Texas ’71/Allman Brothers Band Recording Company
Three and a Half out of Five Stars

Although it’s hard to top the Grateful Dead as far as archival live releases are concerned, the Allman Brothers have clearly become contenders. With their own namesake record label to facilitate, the number of vintage concert recordings has increased exponentially in recent years, adding volumes to the band’s heretofore limited concert catalog. The opportunity to witness the seminal band in its easiest incarnation, with both Duane Allman and Berry Oakley at the fore prior to the tragedies that took their lives within a year of one another is in itself well worth the time taken for further exploration.

In the case of this particular offering, Down in Texas ’71, the performances are, as always, of special interest. Not only were they representative of the band at the height of their early prowess, but they nicely complement the landmark At Fillmore East recordings that were released two months prior. Recorded on September 28, 1971, it’s one of the final shows to feature Duane Allman, who would die tragically a mere month after this particular event. The repertoire is familiar of course, with many of the same songs that populated the Fillmore East set making return appearances here. Allman’s trademark slide guitar is given the prominence it deserves and the double propulsion of Butch Trucks and Jaimoe is, as always, a singular driving force. Scorching takes on “Trouble No More, “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ and “Done Somebody Wrong” provide the obvious highlights, but differ little to the more familiar renditions heard on the earlier albums. That said, “One Way Out” sounds slightly more strident here given Duane’s dominance. One additional element comes in the form of saxophone player Rudolph “Juicy” Carter, who sits in on six of the album’s nine tracks, and although his presence isn’t as prominent as one might otherwise expect. In fact, he’s so buried in the mix and hardly heard at all.

To be sure, Down in Texas ’71 does have its flaws. It kicks off with “Statesboro Blues” in what already appears to be mid-stride, and the sound seems to fluctuate early on, as if the engineer was struggling to find his bearings. Indeed, the audio sounds somewhat distant throughout, comparable to a decent bootleg that’s not as fully fleshed out as a more polished production would  be. There’s a looser feel to the proceedings as well, given the band’s tendency to slowly gel prior to launching their full-on assault. “Stormy Monday” in particular comes across as somewhat lethargic compared to the more familiar renditions heard elsewhere, although once the group gets going, it’s hard to fault their efforts overall. The 15 minute “You Don’t Love Me” ebbs and flows with sheer dexterity, although concluding track, “Hot ‘Lanta,” comes across as somewhat rushed and unwieldy.

Nevertheless, a pair of interviews with Berry Oakley and Duane Allman recorded three months before these concerts and just prior to the release of At Fillmore East provide a fascinating glimpse into the band’s mindset at the time. When the pair discuss the Allmans’ future plans, the tragedy of what would soon befall the band is inescapable. The fact that proceeds from the album sales benefit The Allman Brothers Museum at the Big House, the place where the Brothers lived, composed and recorded, makes acquisition all the more beneficial.

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