Sometimes it is hard to believe that it takes an average of a decade or so for Gregg Allman to release a solo record. It was about 9 years between Playin' Up A Storm and I'm No Angel and then another 9 years between Just Before The Bullets Fly and Seaching For Simplicity. Now after seeing more than 13 years pass since that record, Allman emerges with Low Country Blues.
All the time between records hasn't made Allman a forgotten man by any stretch. He's been regularly playing with the Allman Brothers Band since they regrouped in the late 1980s. Still, Low Country Blues does remind us that Allman on his own is a wholly different experience.
Gregg Allman remains one of rock's finest vocalists and one of its greatest intrepreters. For this record, producer TBone Burnett led Allman back to the blues music that served as the foundation for the Allman Brothers Band. Besides Just Another Rider, a song Allman penned with Warren Haynes, this is a record of straight blues intrepretations that keeps true to the sounds of their respective era. It is key that none of the covers date past the mid 1960s. Most of them are before 1960.
Because Allman has a history of recording with large ensembles, it shouldn't be surprising that the big band blues that date from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s take up the majority of the record. These tracks include Bobby Blue Bland's Blind Man, BB King's Please Accept My Love, Magic Sam's My Love Is Your Love, Amos Milburn's Tears, Tears, Tears, and Otis Rush's Checking On My Baby.
The highly orchestrated sounds of the blues from this era deeply informed the Allman in both his music with the Allman Brothers Band and as a solo artist. There's a complexity and an intricacy to this music that provided the wide ranging musical canvas that Allman has explored throughout his career.
Allman also includes a pair from the Chess Records catalog in Junior Wells' Little By Little and Muddy Waters' I Can't Be Satisfied. Chess was also of this same era, but that label had a bit more grit than polish. This grit remains a key part of Allman's music career as well.
Despite all of these fine songs, the most effective songs on Low Country Blues are the even older pre-war acoustic country blues. In these songs (Floating Bridge, Devil Got My Woman, and Rollin Stone), Allman's bares himself as a singer and artist. The lack of accompaniment adds to the soulfulness. As anyone who is lucky enough to have Allman's now out of print One More Try anthology knows that by himself with little help Allman can move a listener in ways that are unimaginable.
The core band on Low Country Blues deserves notice as well. Allman plays acoustic guitar and his usual B-3 while Texan Doyle Bramhall II brings the fat tones and reverb-drenched of his guitar and Dr John plays piano throughout. The rhythm section of Dennis Crouch on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums never waver.
According to a recent interview Allman asked himself, "[w]hy are these tunes laying down so easy? I started thinking [TBone] was a witch. God, this guy's not supposed to know me this way. He must've studied my voice."
There's little doubt this marriage of one of the south's finest voices with a great band and repertoire makes for one fine album.
- Jim Markel