Even though my streaming music provider had included Pale Horse Rider in their latest new music mix, I didn’t pay full attention to the The Allman Betts Band at first. Thankfully, Max from PowerPop recommended them to me – yet more proof how remarkably similar our music taste is! Earlier today, I checked out the band and their sophomore album Bless Your Heart, which appeared on August 28. I really like what I heard, including the fact this band is clearly forging their own path, not trying to be a continuation of The Allman Brothers Band.
Before getting to some music, I’d like to provide a bit of background. In December 2017, songwriter and guitarist Devon Allman, a son of Gregg Allman from his first marriage to Shelley Kay Jefts, decided to organize a tribute concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco to honor the music of his father. The show also marked the debut of his new band, Devon Allman Project, and featured a notable guest: Songwriter and guitarist Duane Betts, son of guitarist and Allman Brothers founding member Dickey Betts.
Following the tribute show, the Devon Allman Project embarked on a year-long world tour, with Duane Betts opening for the band and joining them for Allman Brothers songs. While they played some tunes by the Brothers, the Devon Allman Project was not a tribute band. In fact, Devon and Duane mostly performed songs from their respective solo careers. Inspired by the favorable audience reception, they decided to take things to the next level by writing songs together.
They also reached out to Berry Duane Oakley, son of Berry Oakley, former Allman Brothers bassist and another founding member, to ask whether he would join them. All three had known each other and been friends since 1989 when they met during the 20th anniversary tour of The Allman Brothers Band. Oakley was on board. Johnny Stachela (slide guitar), John Lum (drums) and R Scott Bryan (percussion) were brought in to complete the lineup, and in November 2018, The Allman Betts Band was officially announced.
Subsequently, the band worked with producer Matt Ross-Spang to record their debut album Down to the River at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Guests included keyboarder Peter Levin, former member of Gregg Allman’s band, and pianist and organ player Chuck Leavell, a current member of The Rolling Stones’ touring band. The album appeared in June 2019. For a subsequent world tour, the band brought in John Ginty as keyboarder, who remains part of the current lineup.
This brings me to Bless Your Heart. While you can hear traces, just like the Devon Allman Project, The Allman Betts Band does not try to be a continuation of The Allman Brothers Band. I think it’s a smart choice they want to find their own way. It seems to me this reflects what Devon and Duane set out to do from the beginning of their careers in the early ’90s and late ’90s, respectively. Time for some music.
Here’s the aforementioned Pale Horse Rider, the album’s opener and second single. It’s a great example of a tune where the twin lead guitars are reminiscent of the Allman Brothers but that otherwise doesn’t sound much like them. “‘Pale Horse Rider’ was a really fun one to write,” Devon Allman, told Rolling Stone Country, as reported by Rock & Blues Muse. “Duane had this almost vertigo-inducing descending melodic pattern that was so unique. Once I started the lyric about a man feeling so lost and isolated with the world out to get him, the story just kind of wrote itself. The Wild West seemed like the perfect setting to tell the tale.”
Carolina Song is one of my early favorite tracks on the album. It’s got a great sound. Johnny Stachela’s slide guitar, John Ginty’s keyboard work and the singing including the backing vocals stand out to me in particular. BTW, just like their debut, Bless Your Heart was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, with Matt Ross-Spang serving again as producer.
On King Crawler, things turn honky tonky. With Art Edmaiston’s saxophone work, the band almost sounds like The Rolling Stones – great tune!
Things get personal on Southern Rain, were Devon is singing about the death of his father and his mother, who had passed shortly before Gregg had died. “There’s elements in there of being OK with the lumps we’ve taken,” Devon told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He noted the song had come to him while being on the road on a tour bus. He also shared the last time he saw Gregg his dad told him how proud he was of his son. “It was amazing to finally hear that from my dad. The chorus is ‘I believe in you and I will be with you,’ from my dad’s perspective. That was a heavy day when my dad told me that. I left his house, and I knew I would never see him again. It’s a pretty cathartic experience to put that in a song, and it felt good to share that with people.”
I’d like to call out one more tune: Magnolia Road, another standout on the album that also became the lead single. It was written by Los Angeles singer-songwriter Stoll Vaughan, who also had collaborated with the band on five tracks from their debut release. Here’s the official video.
Asked by Cleveland.com how the band is planning to deal with the legacy of the Allman Brothers, Devon said, “I think that you’ve got to be careful. You can dip into the well a bit, but it’s also important to balance the visitation of nostalgia with stepping forward into the future because we don’t want to be just some kind of rerun band. We really want to have a legacy of our own music and our own exploring. We’re getting to a place where we can rise to this challenge, we can throw some stuff into that long body of work our heroes did and feel good about it.” While I’ve yet to listen to the band’s debut album, I think they off to a very promising start.
Sources: Wikipedia; The Allman Betts Band website; Rock & Muse; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Cleveland.com; YouTube