THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND Idlewild South (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)
On their second album, The Allmans sound unnervingly close to Creedence Clearwater Revival, albeit trading some of John Fogerty’s lyrical incisiveness for a more fluid, improvisational sound. When CCR jammed their choogling could never really reach escape velocity, no matter how long they worked “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. The Allmans were far more convincing, as the seven-minute instrumental “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” testifies. Gregg Allman’s compositions are unpretentious to a fault, bluesy, Saturday night-friendly Southern rock that can scale from roadhouse to arena. There’s a swampy, broiling cover of “Hoochie Coochie Man”, and “Revival” works itself up into an appropriately gospelly fervour. It’s not an elaborate album, it has to be said, but its honesty and commitment add up.
Sonically not as revelatory as Mobile Fidelity’s reissue of Santana’s “Abraxas”, this 180 gram vinyl incarnation of “Idlewild South” sounds a little congested in places, although that’s probably more a criticism of the master tapes from which it was struck than any lack of care and attention on MFSL’s part.
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND At Fillmore East (Classic)
The Allmans’ kingmaking 1971 live album is filled with relaxed, luxuriant, tight-but-loose jams that posit the band second only to the Grateful Dead in that time and territory, filmed here in an auditory soft focus that doesn’t quite smooth of all the band’s rough edges. Maybe it’s because there’s so many of ‘em (the band reaching a septet in places) that they can make their music seem so effortless; certainly, there’s no frenetic power trio grandstanding here (not that it doesn’t have its place, as aficionados of trios from Cream past Nirvana will attest).
Despite the first disc being devoted solely to blues covers and the second to the band’s own, usually instrumental, material, there’s no disjoint between the two. They stretch Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me” out for an entire side, and hear it on one of these newfangled 30˚C summer nights and even deep into the tangled thicket of improv into which the song degenerates it can still sound astonishingly close and intimate.
The second disc begins with the indulgence of a whole side of instrumentals. It takes a while to sink in, but “Hot ‘Lanta” is essentially jazz in structure, with its opening statement of theme, solos (organ, guitar, guitar and a percussion duel) the restatement of theme, concluding with a coda of breathtaking subtlety. Similarly, Dickie Betts’ gravestone-inspired “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” opens with all the delicacy of rippling waves lapping at your toes, but gently swells and expands until it surges with underlying ferocity. It’s finely modulated, unlike, for example, Cream’s interminable blasts of the blues. Finally, there’s those 22 minutes of “Whipping Post”, and I’m honestly not sure whether it’s stupendous or stupid, but even as it wanders far, far away from the point I can’t help but appreciate its languid delicacy.
Classic’s 200 gram vinyl reissue of “At Fillmore East” is a wonder to behold, sleeved in thick cardboard with textured paper inside the gatefold. If the sound isn’t pinsharp it betters Mobile Fidelity’s recent work on “Idlewild South”, positively oozing thick, smoky, sticky atmosphere.
Derek And The Dominos