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

What I’ve Been Listening To: Devon Allman/Ride Or Die

Allman’s third studio album shows skilled blues rock guitarist comfortable carrying famous family name

Yesterday, I coincidentally saw a commemorative event for Gregg Allman pop up on Facebook Live and ended up watching for some time. Among others, it included Gregg’s former guitarist and music director Scott Sharrard and Devon Allman. Not only had I not realized that Gregg Allman had a son, but I also had not known Devon is a professional guitarist who has been playing since the early ’90s and has had a recording career of more than 10 years.

Let me say this right upfront. Devon is a pretty good guitarist who writes his own music and has a decent voice. While after experimenting with other music styles in his twenties he eventually embraced the genre of his famous dad, he is not trying to be a Gregg Allman copy. In fact, the two of them didn’t even meet until Devon was in his teens and already had taken up music. But he is also no longer denying what feels natural to him and coming from the heart: blues rock.

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Devon’s mother was Gregg’s first wife, Shelley Kay Jefts. When they divorced in 1972, Devon was still an infant. He grew up with his mom in Corpus Christi, Tex. and later also lived in Tennessee and St. Louis, MO. In a Dec. 2006 interview with Blogcritics Music, Devon noted, “I actually got to grow up in a very normal suburban American existence. I didn’t meet him [Gregg Allman] until I was in my teens, but we formed a bond instantly. Luckily, I didn’t have to grow up amidst the insanity that they went through. He is just one of many heroes of mine… those who sing and play from the heart. Those who overcome insane odds to still do what they love to do. He really lets me do my own thing with no meddling.”

On to Ride Or Die, which is Devon Allman’s most recent studio album that was released almost exactly a year ago. The 12-track set kicks off with Say Your Prayers, a nice blues rocker. Co-written by Allman and rhythm guitarist Tyler Stokes, the tune features a catchy guitar riff and some cool wah-wah sound that is also present on various other tunes on the record.

Galaxies is another blues rocker with a great groove. In addition to the guitar work, I like the Hammond-style keyboard played by Kevin McKendree. The song, another co-write by Allman and Stokes, includes the line, “when galaxies collide will you ride or die?” from which the album’s title was derived.

The record also has quieter tunes, such as Lost, featuring Allman mostly on acoustic guitar. He adds some nice accents with what sounds like a mix between electric wah-wah and the Talkbox effect – pretty cool.

Shattered Times is another standout on the album. The blues rock tune, which features great wah-wah rhythm guitar, was co-written by producer Tom Hambridge, who also played drums on all tracks, and Richard Fleming.

The last track I’d like to highlight is one of the quieter songs, Live From the Heart. It’s one of five tunes Allman penned by himself. Similar to Lost, the track is mostly acoustic and also features nice keyboard work.

Ride Or Die was recorded in Nashville and appeared on the independent German label Ruf Records, which also issued Allman’s two previous solo albums Ragged & Dirty (2014) and Turquoise (2013). Other musicians on the record include Steve Duerst (bass), Ron Holloway (saxophone) and Bobby Yang (violin). With Hambridge, Allman had an experienced and award-winning rock, country and blues producer, who has worked with other artists like Susan Tedeschi, George Thorogood, Johnny Winter and Buddy Guy.

The album was well received. Blues Blast Magazine noted Allman “continues to produce blues-rock albums that have a wide appeal through the quality of the songwriting, Devon’s distinctive voice and guitar skills.” Blues Rock Review called it “the highlight of Allman’s career thus far,” while Relix concluded it’s “a purposeful effort by a second-generation artist well worthy of his pedigree.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Blogcritics Music, Blues Blast Magazine, Blues Rock Review, Relix, YouTube