Last year the future wasn't so bright for Gregg Allman. Word came down in the summer the leader of the venerable Allman Brothers was having liver transplant surgery. Gigs were cancelled, and the fate of the group looked shaky. But then came the good news. The operation went fine, and with it came a renewed spirit for Allman. The biggest surprise was word of a new solo disc. He's had several before, and there hasn't been a good one in awhile. Plus, nobody will ever let him forget the Allman and Woman fiasco when he was briefly married to Cher back in the '70's.
This time though, things are different. Once again we have master producer T-Bone Burnett to thank. Burnett is about the busiest producer in the business, since his remarkable success with the O Brother Where Are Thou soundtrack. He has become the go-to guy for veteran musicians and young ones alike, looking to grab his magic, and his specific ability to capture the old, rootsy, real sounds of traditional folk, blues, and R'n'B. He's the man behind the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss disc. He produces Jacob Dylan, Elvis Costello, the recent Elton John/Leon Russell disc, every couple of months there's another project comes out with his name on it.
For Allman, a concept was required, and here it is: a return to southern electric blues, the real stuff that inspired Gregg and his brother Duane when they were first kids, back in 1959, down south. So it's the blues of Muddy Waters, Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Otis Rush, Amos Milburn, B.B. King, classic artists on this almost-entirely covers album. Happily, Burnett is also a music scholar, and he never picks the same, obvious tracks and classics everybody else does. So Allman and Burnett dug deep into the catalogues of these original players.
Allman sounds inspired....hey, not just inspired. He sounds BRILLIANT, alive, into it. He sings better than he has in years, obviously back in the game in a big way. Now, this is a guy who has been accused of phoning it in at various times in his career, so to hear him sing like he means it, and to be so in command, it's hugely exciting. He's backed by Burnett's usual band of top-notch session guys, plus some star favourites including Doyle Bramhall II on guitar, and Dr. John himself on piano. Even Blackie and the Rodeo King's Colin Linden guests on some tracks. Hearing these guys dig into the real stuff is a treat, with Dr. John in particular providing such an authentic tone, and Bramhall lifting songs with his solos. Burnett's mastery of the sound puts these tracks in a wonderous place, sounding both ancient and contemporary at the same time. The stand-out cut may be the Bobby "Blue" Bland number Blind Man, featuring a mellow growl from Allman that reminds us all of his glory, when he's on his game. This time, he truly is.