Low Country Blues
It's easy to forget, while strolling about the rustic tunes of B.B. King, Skip James and Otis Rush on Low Country Blues, that Gregg Allman was once among the most glammed-up of rock stars. Not glamorous. Glammed.
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The longstanding figurehead of the Southern rock vanguards known as the The Allman Brothers Band, the singer was, by the late '70s, a champion druggie and boozehound and was married to Cher. But after the Allman Brothers rose from a second breakup in the late '80s, Allman has held his demons in check. Of late, with a liver transplant to serve as incentive, he has remained free of his hard habits altogether.
Such an image of an artist rescued from the highway to you-know-where gives credence to Low Country Blues. But the record also takes Allman out of his comfort zone. The blues have been a cornerstone of the Allman Brothers sound. Still, much of the album deviates from the churchy blues that have long been integral to his band. You hear it in the street-corner brass of Little Milton's Blind Man and Rush's Checking on My Baby, and in the rich acoustic colors that dominate James' Devil Got My Woman.
There also are differences in Allman's vocal work. Throughout the first half of Low Country Blues, his voice sounds thinner and reedier than in the past. Age can account for some of that, although the differences do nothing to diminish the obvious blues devotion at the heart of his music.
Yet when the record reaches its only original tune, Just Another Rider (penned with longtime Allman Brothers mate Warren Haynes), the deeper, throatier blues moan that defined Allman's music in the '70s awakens. From that point, Low Country Blues sounds almost ageless.
The album also benefits from its producer, roots-music entrepreneur T Bone Burnett. He provides Low Country Blues with an atmospheric ambience that enhances some of the songs' inherent mystery and soulfulness. A highlight is the finger-popping bass of veteran Burnett henchman Dennis Crouch that sits firmly in the foreground on the album-opening cover of Sleepy John Estes' Floating Bridge. It's just one of the many solemn but playful ways that spirits on Low Country Blues remain so high.
WAlter Tunis, contributing music writer