Allman Brothers Band: Win, Lose or Draw

The Allman Brothers haven’t been behaving at all like one of the two or three biggest draws in rock & roll. From the lack of records and appearances over the last two years, it’s been difficult to say for sure whether or not the Allman Brothers Band still existed.

While WinLose or Draw indicates that there is, indeed, still an Allman Brothers, it doesn’t make one optimistic about the creative vitality or general state of the band.

Win, Lose or Draw contains: (A) two inferior truncated remakes of ‘Ramblin’ Man’ written and sung by Richard Betts; (B) two solid new Gregg Allman tunes; (C) an uninspired performance of a Muddy Waters blues; (D) a lively rendition of a Billy Joe Shaver tune sung by Betts and (E) the album’s centerpiece, a 14-minute instrumental in the classic Allman mode. If the Allmans were in the habit of recording and releasing an album every few months, Win, Lose or Draw would seem a pleasant if unmemorable stopping-off point in the group’s body of work. But coming after a two-year drought, it seems rather slim.

Betts, whose startling growth pulled the band together on Eat a Peach (his ‘Blue Sky’ is arguably the best track the Allmans have ever cut), and whose inspired writing and musicianship dominated the last Allman Brothers album, Brothers and Sisters (from which the hit ‘Ramblin’ Man’ was taken), shows little obvious growth as a songwriter on the new album; more than that, he shows little inclination. His two songs, which employ the motif of ‘Ramblin’Man’, are much less ambitious and much less arresting than that classic.

On the other hand, ‘High Falls’, Betts’ extended instrumental piece, features another unforgettable Allman twin guitar riff and a Laylaesque improvised guitar section that contains some of the most supple and poignant soloing Betts has yet recorded. The track gets momentum and litheness from the full but never heavyhanded double-drumming of Butch Trucks and Jaimoe. It’s lovely, and it’s great accompaniment for a long drive on the freeway. Betts makes points vocally in his performance of Shaver’s ‘Sweet Mama’ by loosening his usually tightly rustic approach in order to deal with the song’s sexual innuendo. He has a surprisingly easy time of it, and his singing and slidework make this the album’s most charming track (and perhaps its strongest single possibility).

The new album is also noteworthy for the revitalization of Gregg Allman. He’s only contributed a pair of tunes, but each — the urgent ‘Nevertheless’ and the sorrowful title tune — is forcefully earnest. The same goes for Allman’s vocals: Gregg’s singing sounds more involved and aware than it has since Eat a Peach, I’d almost forgotten what a powerful singer he is when his heart is in the song.

With more quantitatively from Gregg Allman and some fresh inspiration from Dickie Betts, the Allman Brothers Band could have another resurgence. ‘High Falls’ and the pair from Allman suggest that that resurgence is possible. I hope the next Allman Brothers Band album has more meat and more punch than this one — and I hope it doesn’t take them another two years to record it.

© Bud ScoppaPhonograph Record, October 1975

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