An idiosyncratic history lesson from an old master.
Ninian Dunnett 2011-01-21
With the new century the blue-eyed boys of the 60s blues revival have been turning into old bluesmen themselves, and the memorialising of their heroes seems to be a later-life rite of passage. Gregg Allman’s history lesson may not match his finest recordings, but it’s a diverting blues miscellany from an undoubted master.
The singer is best remembered for his string of albums with The Allman Brothers Band in the 1970s, and fans of that group’s driving and melodic blues-rock will need to recalibrate their ears for an immediate dose of early country blues. Gregg Allman’s emotive voice is penetrating but thin, and a little exposed by T-Bone Burnett’s sparse production on songs by Sleepy John Estes and Skip James.
The producer has been the curator-in-chief of contemporary American roots music for some years now, and there’s always a danger of the Burnett signature eclipsing the latest legend to arrive in his LA studio. Devotees of Plant and Krauss’s Raising Sand, for example, will here quickly recognise the unmistakeable thud and clatter of Dennis Crouch and Jay Bellerose, that album’s distinctive rhythm section.
Low Country Blues is too entertainingly diverse, though, to submit to an all-embracing style. Catching up on the 60s and 70s with BB King and Otis Rush, the brass and lead guitar of Please Accept My Love and Checking on My Baby are faithful pastiches, while the jazzy arrangement and big-band dynamics of Blind Man sound just like the setting where Bobby "Blue" Bland shone his brightest.
These are mighty blues vocalists, of course. But at 63, Gregg Allman holds his own; few have bettered his trademark throaty holler, and aided by his trusty Hammond B-3 the veteran sustains an appealing presence throughout the idiosyncratic variety (and yes, that is Dr John’s understated piano fills in the left-hand speaker).
There is just one song, Allman’s mournfully anthemic Just Another Rider, where it’s difficult not to feel nostalgic for the measured maelstrom of twin lead guitars and two drummers that supported the writer of Whipping Post and Midnight Rider at his very best.