Allman Betts Band Release New Album Bless Your Heart

While Devon Allman and Duane Betts don’t deny their famous fathers, they continue to forge their own path on band’s sophomore album

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.

Devon Allman and friend at the Fillmore in San Francisco, December 2017

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.

The Allman Betts Band (from left): front: Devon Allman & Duane Betts; back: John Ginty, R Scott Bryan, Johnny Stachela, Berry Duane Oakley & John Lum

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

‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ Remains Compelling Rolling Stones Proposition

‘Greatest rock & roll band in the world’ delivers powerful performance at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium

Whether you agree or not with the label “greatest rock & roll band in the world” (I dig the Stones big time but still would choose The Beatles, if could only select one band), I believe it is safe to say The Rolling Stones are a unique phenomenon. For now more than 55 years, they have brought energetic blues-oriented rock to audiences around the world. And they did so again last night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., during the first of two dates at that venue, as part of the previously postponed North American leg of their No Filter Tour.

At age 76, Mick Jagger remains one of the most compelling front men in rock. His voice still is in fairly decent shape. What’s even more remarkable is that he doesn’t appear to have lost any of his swagger. He is still a born show guy. He also continues to have the energy of a young man, allowing him to, well, move like Jagger. And let’s not forgot his heart valve replacement surgery only happened a few months ago. Frankly, all of this is friggin’ unreal to me. I will say that age hasn’t been as kind to other core members of the band, but together they still sounded great.

The Rolling Stones Live
The Rolling Stones (from left): Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards

I agree with everything Music Enthusiast recently noted during his review of the Stones’ gig at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. These shows ain’t cheap, but when a band puts on that kind of performance, spending big bucks is worth it, especially if you dig their music. And like Music Enthusiast, I was also surprised how fresh and dynamic Miss You sounded, certainly not my favorite Stones tune, and what a killer performance they put on for Midnight Rambler.  Last but not least, I also love Brown Sugar, actually more so than Midnight Rambler, and Jagger and co delivered on this one as well. Hell, even the overplayed second and last encore (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction sounded cool.

Since most if not all more frequent visitors of my blog also follow Music Enthusiast, I’m going to deliberately highlight other tunes. Let’s kick it off with the opener last night: Street Fighting Man. As usually credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune was first released as a U.S. single in August 1968. It was also included on the Beggars Banquet album from that same year.

Next up: Tumbling Dice from Exile On Main Street, a favorite among Stones fans. Even many critics who initially were lukewarm about it changed their opinions later and concluded it’s one of the band’s best records – I guess being a critic and saying something clever is hard, and I’m definitely happy I’m not one of ’em! Co-written by Jagger and Richards, Tumbling Dice also appeared as the album’s lead single in April 1972, one month ahead of the record’s release.

Are you ready for something acoustic? Well, ready or not, here’s the second and last tune the Stones performed on the so-called B-stage. And even though as a country-oriented song it’s less typical for the band, Dead Flowers off Sticky Fingers from April 1971 is one of my favorite tracks from what has become my favorite Stones record. Again, it’s a Jagger/Richards co-write. Take me down little Susie!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is one of my other favorites from the Stones: Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Recorded during the Beggars Banquet sessions, the track was released as a single in May 1968. While officially it is only credited to Jagger and Richards, according to Wikipedia, then-bassist Bill Wyman in his autobiography Stone Alone wrote that he came up with the tune’s signature guitar riff on a piano but wasn’t acknowledged by the Glimmer Twins – that doesn’t sound nice!

Here’s the setlist from last night.

Main Stage:

Street Fighting Man

Let’s Spend the Night Together

Tumbling Dice

She’s a Rainbow (audience request)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

B-Stage / Acoustic:

Sweet Virginia

Dead Flowers

Main Stage:

Sympathy for the Devil

Honky Tonk Women

Slipping Away (Keith Richards on lead vocals)

Before They Make Me Run (Keith Richards on lead vocals)

Miss You

Paint It Black

Midnight Rambler

Start Me Up

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Brown Sugar

Encore:

Gimme Shelter

Play Video

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Core members Mick Jagger (lead vocals, harmonica, guitar, percussion), Keith Richards (guitars, vocals), Ronnie Wood (guitars, backing vocals) and Charlie Watts (drums, percussion) were backed by Darryl Jones (bass), Chuck Leavell (keyboards, backing vocals), Matt Clifford (keyboards, percussion, French horn), Karl Denson (saxophone), Tim Ries (saxophone, keyboards), Sasha Allen (backing vocals) and Bernard Fowler (backing vocals, percussion). In addition to Jagger, Wood stood out to me with excellent guitar work among the Stones’ core members. And while all supporting musicians were top-notch, I’d like to call out Jones for his killer bass solo in Miss You and Denson for his strong sax work, which was on display during Miss You and other tunes.

Three fun facts I learned: Jagger said last night was the first time for The Rolling Stones to play at MetLife Stadium. During band introductions, he called Charlie Watts Frank Sinatra’s favorite drummer – an allusion to Watts’ age who turned 78 in June? No idea, but I found it funny. Watts didn’t look bothered by it. Opening act The Wombats, an indie rock and power pop band from Liverpool, England, during their set mentioned that it was one of their songs, Techno Fan, to which Jagger danced during his post-heart surgery practice video that went viral on the internet. It sounded like that song choice led to outreach to the Stones and to The Wombats opening up for them last night – cool story.

The Stones are playing MetLife Stadium again on Monday, August 5. Then it’s on to Denver (Aug 10) and Seattle (Aug 14). The last North American date and I assume the end of the tour is in Miami on August 31. The No Filter Tour kicked off on September 9, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. There were a few bigger breaks throughout the two-year span. The schedule for the remaining shows is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stones website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Rolling Stones/She’s A Rainbow

Yesterday, ticket pre-sales started for the 2019 U.S. leg of The Rolling Stones’ No Filter tour. The tour kicked off in Europe last September and October and resumed in May 2018 before coming to its conclusion in July. Altogether, it included 25 gigs. The above clip of She’s A Rainbow was captured during a show in Berlin on June 22. I’ve always dug this tune, which the Stones first recorded for Their Satanic Majesties Request, their sixth British and eighth American studio album. They actually played the song, based on an online fan vote. BTW, that’s the great Chuck Leavell on the lovely piano!

Recently, Mick Jagger talked to the Los Angeles Times about the 2019 U.S. leg. “The stage design will be somewhat the same,” he noted, “but I don’t know about the set list. We haven’t gotten around to that yet.” Commenting more generally on how the Stones decide on a setlist, Jagger said, “You try and go into the back catalog and you always want to find unusual stuff, but sometimes it doesn’t sound right…Then sometimes you find something that really works that you never thought you’d do. We started doing ‘She’s a Rainbow’ [at two shows in June] and found that people really like it, and they really requested us to do it. We find that sort of song goes down really well.”

Whether She’s A Rainbow will become part of the setlist for the U.S. tour leg remains to be seen – I hope it will! Meanwhile, Keith Richards just told Rolling Stone “Maybe this will be the last one.” While at age 74 and after playing with The Rolling Stones for some 57 years he could be forgiven for calling it quits, frankly, I don’t buy it. Richards simply doesn’t strike me as the type of person who would retire, unless it would be for a serious health reason. Perhaps he meant this could be the last time the Stones play big stadiums…I don’t know, oh no!

What’s clear is that according to the current tour schedule, the opening U.S. gig will be on April 20 in Miami. At this time, 15 shows have been booked. Some of the other dates include Houston (April 28), Seattle (May 22), Washington, D.C. (May 31), Philadelphia (June 4), Foxborough, Mass. (June 8) and East Rutherford, N.J. (June 13 and 17). Undoubtedly, more gigs will be announced. I already got my ticket for June 13. Hey, you never know, maybe this will be the Stones’ last tour after all, and I’ve really wanted to see them one more time!

Sources: Wikipedia, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Rolling Stones website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: David Gilmour/Comfortably Numb

I swear this is yet another coincidental occasion that resulted in a spontaneous post. When checking out YouTube for something else, I got distracted, stepped away from the computer for a few minutes, and when I got back this killer clip was playing. I just couldn’t resist posting about it!

The Wall isn’t even my favorite Pink Floyd album (that would be Meddle), though I’d put it in my top 5, together with Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, as well as Relics, an excellent compilation of the band’s early stage. That being said, I’ve always dug Comfortably Numb, which David Gilmour co-wrote with Roger Waters. In no small part that’s because of Gilmour’s epic solo. While I oftentimes feel less is more when it comes to guitar solos, there are exceptions, and this is one of them – when the guitar-playing is as great, I don’t mind if a solo is a bit massive!

The above clip is from a 2016 David Gilmour concert at the Amphitheatre of Pompeii, which according to Wikipedia was the first public performance there since AD 79. ‘Wait a moment,’ you might say, ‘how about the 1972 documentary Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii?’ While the band indeed played there what was a typical live set at the time, there was no actual audience beyond the film crew. Maybe I’m romanticizing a bit here, but can you imagine how frigging awesome it must have been to be a member of that crew?

BTW, in case the guy singing co-lead vocals somehow looks familiar, it’s Chuck Leavell. The American singer-songwriter and keyboarder was a member of The Allman Brothers Band during their heyday in the ’70s. He has also worked with artists like Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Gov’t Mule.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Rolling Stones Come Full Circle With New Blues Album

“Blue & Lonesome” feels like the Stones took a journey back to the early 1960s and made their best album in more than 20 years.

Yesterday (Dec 2, 2016), The Rolling Stones released their long anticipated blues album, Blue & Lonesome. After having listened to it for a few times, I would say it’s their best music since 1989’s Steel Wheels.

Blue & Lonesome is the band’s first studio album since 2005 when they released A Bigger Bang, and their 23rd British and 25th American studio release overall. It is also their first full-length record that includes covers only. While the Stones started out playing mostly blues covers, even their early albums had at least one song credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Produced by long-time Stones’ producer Don Was, the collection of 12 vintage blues songs was recorded in a London studio in just three days. According to a recent feature in Rolling Stone, the Stones initially went into the studio to work on an album of original songs that is still in its early stages. To warm up they did what they oftentimes do – play blues songs they have loved for many years. Since they knew the tunes so well, they played them (mostly) live and didn’t need to run through many takes. This gives the album a fresh and spontaneous feel.

The Rolling Stones 2016

To me one of the highlights is Jagger’s blues harp playing. I have to say I wasn’t aware how talented he is. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood also provide great guitar work, while drummer Charlie Watts and Darryl Jones,  who after playing bass for more than 20 years still is not an official member of the band, effectively drive the rhythm.

And then there is Eric Clapton, who happened to work on an album at the same study while the Stones were doing their sessions. They invited him to play slide guitar on two songs: Everybody Knows My Good Thing, a tune by Miles Grayson and Lermon Horton, and Willie Dixon’s I Can’t Quit You Baby.

Other contributing musicians include Matt Clifford (keyboards);  Chuck Leavell (keyboards), who was a member of The Allman Brothers Band in the 70s and has frequently recorded and toured with the Stones since 1981; and long-time session drummer Jim Keltner who worked with John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Hiatt and Ry Cooder, among others, and plays percussion on Hoo Doo Blues (Otis Hicks & Jerry West).

Following are a few clips of tunes on the album.

Just Your Fool (Walter Jacobs)

Blue and Lonesome (Walter Jacobs)

Everybody Knows My Good Thing (featuring Eric Clapton) (Miles Grayson and Lermon Horton)

Ride ‘Em On Down (Eddie Taylor Jr.)

I think what Richards said about Jagger’s harmonica playing and the album overall in the above mentioned Rolling Stone feature sums it up perfectly. “This is the best record Mick Jagger has ever made…It was just watching the guy enjoying what he really can do better than anybody else. And also, the band ain’t too shabby.”

This post was updated on August 4, 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube