Final Gregg Allman Studio Album Released

With Southern Blood, Allman’s solo work comes full circle

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Today, the and eighth and final studio album from Gregg Allman Southern Blood  appeared. This followed an announcement from Rounder Records about the release in late July, which coincided with the premiere of the record’s first song My Only True Friend on NPR. I previously did a post on this.

My first impression of the album is that Allman’s voice sounds pretty powerful throughout. After all, the liver cancer he had been battling since 2012 was at a terminal stage when he recorded the 10 tracks over nine days in March 2016 – about 10 months prior to his death on May 27 this year. In fact, based on media reports I previously read, Allman could only work for four hours a day.

Gregg Allman & Band at FAME Studios
Gregg Allman (fourth from left) with FAME studio owner Rick Hall (fifth from left), Don Was (sixth from left) and members of his band

While all who were involved in recording the album knew this was Allman’s final output, the record doesn’t portray a dark mood. Instead, it feels like Allman has come full circle with his solo debut from 1973. “Laid Back had that great pedal steel on it and incorporates a little more of Gregg’s roots than maybe what you heard from just the Allman Brothers,” producer Don Was told Billboard. “One of the things Gregg and I did speak about was making the texture of this record something along the lines of what Laid Back would have sounded like if it were recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals in 2017.”

Intially, Allman had planned to write more songs for the record, but it soon became apparent that between touring and his declining health this wasn’t feasible. “So we came up with the idea of picking a great selection of songs that had deep meaning for Gregg,” his former manager Michael Lehman told Rolling Stone. “The order of the songs tells Gregg’s story. When Gregg picked them, he knew where he was in his life’s journey. He was already further along with the progression of his disease.”

Southern Blood kicks off with My Only True Friend, the previously released song and the only track for which Allman has writing credits. He co-wrote the ballad with his guitarist and musical director Scott Sharrard. The tune’s origins date back to 2012 when Sharrard saw Duane Allman talk to Gregg in a dream. “I woke up, ran downstairs grabbed my guitar and pen and paper and basically got the intro and verse exactly as you hear it on the record,” Sharrard noted in an interview with Guitar World. When showing the beginnings of the song to Allman he liked it, and the two of them started working on it over the next few months. They finished the song just before it was recorded.

Once I Was is a country tune from Tim Buckley, which was included on his second studio album Goodbye and Hello from August 1967. Apparently, Allman was fond of the American singer-songwriter and guitarist. During the above interview with Guitar World, Sharrard said he first heard Allman play the song in March 2014. When he asked him, Allman confirmed he was a fan of Buckley, though he initially wasn’t sure whether he wanted to record the tune. Sharrad liked what he had heard continued to encourage Allman, who eventually agreed to record the song.

I Love the Life I Live is a mid-tempo Willie Dixon blues song. It has a cool guitar riff, great groove and nice horn work. I instantly liked the tune after listening to the opening bars.

Another nice blues rocker on the record is Love Like Kerosene, which was written by Sharrard. Similar to the Dixon tune, it has a great groove and some cool Memphis-style horns – my kind of song! Allman first included the track on his excellent live album Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, GA, which was released in August 2015.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Song For Adam, which was written by Jackson Browne and included on his 1972 eponymous debut album. Browne, a good friend of Allman, also sang back-up vocals on the recording. “Jackson and Gregg were such good friends and admirers of each other’s work since they were teenagers, I couldn’t think of a better way for the record to come to a conclusion than with a lyric that Gregg always related to through the tragic loss of his brother at a young age,” Sharrard told Guitar World.

As noted above, Southern Blood was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., which had special meaning to Allman. “A constant discussion during all of my nearly 15 years working with Gregg was his desire to return to Muscle Shoals,” Lehman explained. “He always would talk about how he needed to get back to Fame Studios to bring him full circle.”

“Muscle Shoals is hallowed musical ground,” added Was. “Fame was the place where Gregg’s brother Duane first started making waves in the music world and where the earliest seeds of The Allman Brothers Band were sown in a back room during their first, seminal rehearsals. Duane’s presence is still ubiquitous in that building. Recording there was Gregg’s way of making his spirit a part of this album, in the same way that his spirit continued to be part of Gregg’s life.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Guitar World, YouTube

Blues, Shock and Rock Rumble New Jersey

Edgar Winter Band, Alice Cooper and Deep Purple blew off roof at PNC Bank Arts Center

What do you get when you have blues rocker Edgar Winter, Mr. Shock Rock Alice Cooper and hard rock pioneers Deep Purple on one ticket? Three-and-a-half hours of furious rock and possibly some hearing loss!

I cannot believe it took me more than 30 years after I first listened to Machine Head to see my favorite hard rock band live. Last night, that time finally came when Deep Purple played the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. Also on the ticket were Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter, who opened the four-hour night including breaks for stage changes.

From the very beginning, the Edgar Winter Band felt like an engine running on maximum rpm the entire time – almost as if Winter, who is the younger brother of electric blues legend Johnny Winter, wanted to bundle the energy of Alice Cooper’s and Deep Purple’s longer performances in a much shorter set. If that was indeed his goal, he succeeded!

Winter’s five-track set included the 1973 Edgar Winter Group hits Free Ride and Frankenstein, as well as covers of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Tobacco Road and Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo. He dedicated the last two tunes to his brother. In addition to Winter’s impressive vocal dynamics, he showcased his multi-instrumental skills, playing keyboards, saxophone and percussion. Here’s a clip of Tobacco Road captured during a performance in Atlanta earlier this month.

Next up was Alice Cooper. I only knew four of the sixteen songs he performed, but fortunately, there is setlist.fm. With a discography of 27 studio albums to date, Cooper had plenty of material he could draw from. The set spanned tacks from 1971’s Love It To Death until his last album Paranormal, which was released at the end of July.

Cooper’s gig started off with Brutal Planet, the title song of his 2000 studio album. This was followed by No More Mr. Nice Guy from his best-selling 1973 record Billion Dollar Babies, which hit no. 1 in the U.S. and the U.K. No More Mr. Nice Guy was the most successful of the four singles from the album, climbing to no. 25 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Here is a clip from a show in Nashville back in May.

The stand-out musician in Cooper’s band was lead guitarist Nita Strauss. The 30-year-old from Los Angeles is a quite a shredder. According to Wikipedia, one of her ancestors on her father’s side of the family is Johann Strauss II, the famous Austrian composer. Strauss, who became Cooper’s touring lead guitarist in 2014, was ranked no. 1 on Guitar World’s 10 Female Guitarists You Should Know. Here is a clip of a solo Strauss played during the show, which blends into Poison, another big hit for Cooper from his 18th studio album Trash, released in 1989.

Of course, a review of Cooper’s set wouldn’t be complete without the epic School’s Out, the title track from his fifth studio album, which appeared in June 1972. Perhaps not surprisingly, he kept it all the way until the very end as the encore. Here’s a clip from Appleton, WI from June.

And then it was finally time for Deep Purple, the main reason I was at last night’s show. The gig was part of the band’s Long Goodbye Tour, which supports their 20th and latest studio album Infinite. When Deep Purple announced the tour in December 2016, drummer Ian Paice told Heavyworlds, “It’ll be a long tour; it may be the last big tour, we don’t know…We haven’t made any plans, but it becomes obvious that you cannot tour the same way you did when you were 21.” In June 2016, Paice had a mini-stroke, which impacted his right hand and forced the band to cancel some shows in Scandinavia.

Last night, I have to say I thought Paice was in superb shape. There were no signs of any impairment. In fact, I was most impressed with him and keyboarder Don Airy. Singer Ian Gillan, on the other hand, seemed to be a bit subdued. At 72 years, he is the oldest member of the band. Plus, as a vocalist, changes are perhaps more obvious. Unlike a guitar you can tune, the voice is a natural instrument that changes over time. Gillan has been a singer for a whooping 55 years. Even though his voice isn’t quite what it used to be, it was still amazing to see him perform alongside his Machine Head compatriots Paice and bassist Roger Glover. Steve Morse, who at 63 is the youngest member of Deep Purple, is a very fine guitarist.

Deep Purple opened their set with two of their greatest songs, Highway Star and Fireball from Machine Head (1972) and Fireball (1971), respectively. I’ve always loved Highway Star’s organ and guitar solos on the studio version, which were played by the amazing Jon Lord and rock guitar virtuoso Ritchie Blackmore, respectively. Perhaps that version puts the bar impossibly high for a live performance. Here is a clip from a show earlier this month in Woodlands, Texas.

Machine Head was the best represented album in Deep Purple’s set. In addition to Highway Star, they played Lazy, Space Truckin and of course Smoke On The Water – frankly, I wouldn’t have minded if they had included all of the record’s tunes – each of them is great, in my opinion!

Songs from the Infinite album included Time For Bedlam and The Surprising. Deep Purple also played two tracks from 1984’s Perfect Strangers, Knocking At Your Back Door and the title song. I always thought Perfect Strangers, the first record after the band had disbanded in 1976, was a pretty good comeback album. Here is a clip of the title track, which was also captured during the above Woodlands concert.

Another great moment in Deep Purple’s set last night was Hush, which is from their 1968 debut Shades Of Deep Purple. By the way, Paice already was part of the band’s lineup then, making him the only member who has played on all Deep Purple records to date. Written by Joe South, Hush became the band’s first hit single climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a clip captured a few days ago during a concert in Mansfield, Mass.

Last but not least there is what is probably the band’s signature song featuring a riff every guitarist learns: Smoke On The Water. It was the final tune of Deep Purple’s set and a great end to a terrific rock night. Here is a clip recorded in May at a show in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, YouTube

An Evening of Joyful Blues with Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’

Blues Legends Bring Good Time to Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley

A long three months finally came to an end last night. Shortly after Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ had issued their collaboration album TajMo in May, I found out about their All Around the World tour and got a ticket to what I knew I simply wouldn’t want to miss. It was a great decision!

Yesterday night, the two blues dynamos brought their show to the F.M. Kirby Center of the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The heart of the Wyoming Valley is not exactly New York or Chicago, but was well worth the 2.5-hour hike from my house through the Pocono Mountains!

Readers of the blog have probably noticed the blues has been on my mind frequently as of late. Undoubtedly, the excellent TajMo album, which I previously reviewed here, has something to do with it. In addition, I’ve been excited about other recent new releases in the blues and soul genres from artists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Casey James and Southern Avenue. Maybe Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ are right when they expressed full confidence that the blues will survive during a recent PBS NewsHour segment.

Jontavious Willis

Before I get to TajMo, I’d like to say few words about the opening act, a country blues artist called Jontavious Willis. According to his online bio, Mahal called Willis “my Wonderboy, the Wunderkind.” After having seen last night’s 30-minute performance by the 21-year-old from Greenville, Ga., I have to say this is not an exaggeration and yet another indication that the prospects of the blues look bright these days!

Willis, who is currently finishing his studies at Columbus State University, released his debut album Blue Metamorphosis in February this year. He’ll continue to tour with TajMo for many of their upcoming gigs in August and September. What this young artist got out of just an acoustic guitar was insane. It’s hard to find clips that do his exceptional solo acoustic skills full justice.

After Willis blew off the Kirby Center’s roof with his dynamic acoustic guitar performance, it was time for TajMo. From the very first moment they walked on stage, their joy of performing together was palpable. The set opened with Señor Blues, a jazz standard by Horace Silver, which Mahal covered on his 1999 studio album with the same title. This was followed by Don’t Leave Me Here, the first of five songs Mahal and Mo’ played from TajMo, and one of favorites from that album.

After six tunes with the full band, the two blues maestros took things “to the deep country blues,” as Mahal put it, playing Diving Duck Blues. Written by Sleepy John Estes, Mahal first recorded the track on his 1969 eponymous debut album. It is also included on TajMo and another highlight of that record. Watch the amazing chemistry between the two.

One of the highlights during the second half of the set was The Worst Is Yet to Come. Co-written by Mo’, Heather Donovan and Pete Sallis, Mo included the tune on 2014’s BLUESAmericana, his 12th studio album. I wonder whether Mo’ got the inspiration for the song’s title from the American songbook 1959 standard The Best Is Yet to Come, which became one of Frank Sinatra’s popular tunes in the mid-’60s. Unfortunately, the only TajMo clip I could find is cut off in the beginning.

Ironically, The Worst Is Yet to Come was followed by one of my longtime favorite blues tunes: She Caught the Katy And Left Me a Mule to Ride. Prior to that I only had known the great version by The Blues Brothers. It turns out Mahal co-wrote this classic with Yank Rachell and included it on this second studio album The Natch’s Blues, which was released in 1968.

The last song I’d like to highlight is All Around the World, which also appears on TajMo and was the closer of the 20-song regular set. The tune perfectly sums up the positive vibes Mahal and Mo’ sent to the audience throughout the show. People were up on their feet and made some noise, so they came back for one encore: Soul, yet another tune from their collaboration album.

Finally, I’d like to say a few words about the top-notch band that backed up Mahal and Mo’. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the names of the musicians, but here are a few things I remember. The drummer comes from Memphis, Tenn., former home of the storied Stax Records label. The bassist, who is a lefty, hails from Washington, D.C. The fantastic horn section consists of a male trumpet player and female saxophonist. Mo’ called her out for her amazing sound. The keyboarder, who among others played a seductively roaring Hammond, was top-rate as well. Last but not least, there were two special background vocalists: Mahal’s daughters, Deva and Zoe. And they were not there just for alibi – these ladies can sing!

TajMo are taking their tour next to Wheeling, W.Va.; and Richmond, Va. before hitting New York City’s SummerStage in Central Park this Sunday, where they will perform a free show. I’m tempted to go there to see them again! The tour continues throughout the remainder of August and September all the way into October, when it concludes in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on October 21.

Sources: PBS NewsHour, Jontavious Willis website, Setlist.fm, Facebook, TajMo web site, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’

The two artists talk about their collaboration and their brand of upbeat blues

This clip from the PBS NewsHour beautifully captures the spirit of Taj Mahal’s and Keb’ Mo’s collaboration album TajMo and their ongoing tour. I can’t wait to see these two amazing artists at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. tomorrow night.

Taj Majal: “Life brings a lot of strive. In the digital age it’s even more intense. A lot of people don’t know how to get loose. So our job as musicians is to help them get loose and have a good time, and think good about themselves.”

Keb’ Mo’: “There is something working in life, in the universe, in the bigger picture that has nothing to do with commerce and money. And for me, I’ve found after 20 years of going after money that the faster I ran after money, the faster the money ran.”

Sources: PBS NewsHour, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Muddy Magnolias/Broken People

Muddy Magnolias is one of the most exciting acts I came across last year when I read about them in Rolling Stone. I was reminded of this powerful urban-R&B-meets-country-and-delta-blues duo when listening to Memphis soul and blues act Southern Avenue, which I’ve done quite extensively over the past few days. I’m not saying the two sound the same, but there are some similarities.

Broken People is the title track from Muddy Magnolias’ excellent full-length debut album, which was released on Third Generation Records in October last year. It was produced by Rick Beato, with support from Mario Marchetti and Butch Walker, and recorded in Atlanta and Nashville in late spring 2016. Last Friday, the album’s latest single Shine On! appeared.

Muddy Magnolias was formed in Nashville in 2014 by two singer-songwriters: Brooklyn, New York native Jessy Wilson, who has an R&B background and is a protegee of John Legend, and Kallie North, who grew up in West Texas, listening to country and folk music. After their performance at CMA Music Festival in August that year, Rolling Stone called them the best unsigned duo, comparing their blend of styles to The Rolling Stones inhabiting Indigo Girls. Looking forward to more music from this act.

Sources: Wikipedia, Muddy Magnolias web site, Rolling Stone, YouTube

It’s That Time of the Year Again: Summer Concert Season

From rock to roots music to blues to hard rock and shock rock, it’s all in the mix for the next few months

To readers of the blog and folks who know me it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I love going to concerts. I can barely wait until the end of June when my summer concert season kicks off. Following is a preview of shows I’m currently planning to see.

U2: The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, June 29

Even though I’ve listened to U2 since the early ’80s, I’ve never seen them live. They have been on my bucket list for a long time. And what better occasion to catch them than during their 2017 tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, their fifth studio album and probably my favorite U2 record. The tour, which includes North America and Europe, kicked off on May 12 in Vancouver, Canada and will conclude in Brussels, Belgium on August 1. “My show” will be the second night at MetLife and the 20th date.

Rolling Stone, which covered the U.S. tour opener in Seattle on May 14, called the show “epic.” The set kicked off with Sunday Bloody Sunday and featured 16 tracks, including all songs from The Joshua Tree, played in the same order than on the album. U2 also played two encores with seven additional songs. For the final Joshua Tree tune, Mothers of the Disappeared, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder joined U2, together with Mumford & Sons who had opened the show. Here’s a clip of Where the Streets Have No Name.

John Mellencamp: Sad Clowns & Hillbillies 2017 Summer Tour, The Mann, Philadelphia, PA, July 6

This will be my second time to see John Mellencamp, one of my favorite music artists. Similar to U2, I’ve listened to him since the early ’80s. I like both the early, more rock-oriented Mellencamp with songs like Hurts So Good, Pink Houses and R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A., as well as his roots-oriented, more stripped down approach he has increasingly adopted over the past 20 years. I think his current album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies with Carlene Carter is an absolute gem. I previously reviewed it here.

The summer tour, which features Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris, includes 22 shows. It is set to kick off on Monday, June 5 in Denver, Colo. and will finish in Forest Hills, N.Y. on July 11. The concert at the Mann in Philly will be the 18th date. As reported by Variety, the upcoming tour will include outdoor gigs, the first time in 15 years Mellencamp has played such venues.  Here’s a clip of Indigo Sunset, one of the best songs from the new album. I think Carter’s beautiful country voice and Mellencamp’s raspy singing make for a great mix.

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’: F.M. Kirby Center, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., August 10

I’m particularly excited about this show, which will be the first time I see any of these legendary blues artists. Taj Mahal’s and Keb’ Mo’s recently released collaboration album TajMo, which I previously reviewed here, has become one of my most frequently played records. The joy these two guys had when recording the album is obvious and something I find very engaging.

Things got underway in Fort Collins, Colo. on May 30. The concert in Wilkes-Barre will be the 11th of 39 shows of the tour, which will conclude in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla on October 28. Here’s a clip of All Around the World.

Deep Purple and Alice Cooper: PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J., August 28

While there are several hard rock bands I like, if I would have to choose only one, it would be Deep Purple. And if I would need to select only one of their albums, undoubtedly, it would be Machine Head, which to me is the definitive ’70s hard rock album. It was also one of my first vinyl records I bought in the late ’70s – I still own it!

While I’ve enjoyed listening to Deep Purple for more than 30 years, this will be the first time I’m going to see them live, as will be the case with Alice Cooper. But unlike Deep Purple, I don’t know Mr. Shock Rock’s music, except for the epic School’s Out and No More Mr. Nice Guy. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the co-lining tour includes 19 gigs in North America, starting in Las Vegas on August 12 and concluding on September 10 in Cincinnati. PNC Bank Arts Center will be 11th show. The tour is part of Deep Purple’s Long Goodbye Tour – sounds like it’s about time to see them!

Of course, I realize Machine Head was released 45 years ago. It’s still hard for me to picture Deep Purple without Ritchie Blackmore and especially Jon Lord, and Ian Gillan’s voice has probably seen better days. But Steve Morse and Don Airey are top-notch musicians, and the band’s new album inFinite, which I reviewed here, shows Deep Purple still has some gas in the tank. Here’s a clip of Highway Star from a recent concert in Munich, Germany.

I’ll probably need hearing aids after the show!

Sources: Wikipedia, U2 web site, Rolling Stone, YouTube, John Mellencamp web site, Ultimate Classic Rock

In Memoriam of Gregg Allman

Rock music has lost another giant

Considering I’ve been a music fan for nearly 40 years, I feel a bit embarrassed to admit that I “discovered” The Allman Brothers Band very late. Sure, I had known and liked Ramblin’ Man for a long time, but it wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that I really started exploring their music. From there I quickly proceeded to Gregg Allman’s solo records. Once I did, I quickly realized what I had missed between the two for all this time!

Even though I knew Allman was not in good health and also read rumors about hospice care a few months ago, I’m still in disbelief this great artist is gone. As I’m writing this post, new reports about his death and obituaries literally keep appearing by the minute. I don’t feel I need to add to this by writing another recap of his life. Instead, I’d like to let his music do the talking.

Undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable performances of the Allman Brothers is Whipping Post at Fillmore East in 1970, when killer guitarist Duane Allman was still around. It’s just epic!

Here is another one – the “laid back” version of Midnight Rider, which I’ve come to like even more than the Brothers’ original version.

Soulshine live at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in 2013. This literally brings tears to my eyes.

Last but not least, here is an awesome rehearsal version of Just Another Rider from Allman’s last solo album Low Country Blues (2011).

To quote a Rolling Stone story, “Gregg Allman was blessed with one of blues-rock’s great growling voices and, along with his Hammond B-3 organ playing (beholden to Booker T. Jones), had a deep emotional power.” Well said!

Allman may be gone, but I’ve no doubt his music will live on.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube