IT MUST have been just at the point where the Grateful Dead has started to tarnish their once peeless charisma as the magic band that the Allman Bros really began hitting their stride.
Now here was a band who could deliver what most other bands merely promised. A top-notch dynamics unit fronted by possibly the most fearsome twin guitar set-up ever to grace rock ‘n’ roll. They were equally capable of kicking in the grand style of a multi-patent Led Zeppelin as they were spiralling off into those heady jams which came nearer to evoking the spirit of John Coltrane through rock than anything since the Byrd’s ‘Eight Miles High’.
The album score card up to this monemt reads more or less like this: the first effort was an exhilarating showcase of introductory fireworks, Idlewild South pinpointed new strengths while restating the previous potency, the live third album was the bees knees, climaxing with the awesome ‘In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed’ which must stand as some kind of pinnacle in pure rock improvision.
The last album Eat A Peach found the band picking up the pieces, living very much under the shadow of Duane Allman (whose death still seems the most pointless in rock if only because it so suddenly amputated a genius clearly yet to reach his peak), but with Dicky Betts standing out firmly as the new leader while Greg Allman still held his ground.
The Allmans are just now starting to settle down after almost two years of loose ends existing in a constant state of flux.
Brothers And Sisters, while not pointing towards any new departures, exists as a pleasant watershed while the Allmans get their collective hands on the reins for their next excursions.
The sound texture is slightly different if only for the introduction of excellent piano work.
However, Dicky Betts calls the shots on the majority of the tracks here. He’s written four numbers to Gregg Allman’s two, sings as much as Greg and his guitar work never fails to impress on any track.
Greg Allman’s songs are fine fare if a trifle predictable: ‘Wasted Words’ and ‘Come And Go Blue’ are genuinely soulful, embellished by vocals which used to sound so much like someone trying to ape Bobby Bland with the emphasis on “bland” but now sound effectively wasted and breathless. The real dynamite comes from Betts though, with two tracks firmly in the style of his classic ‘Blue Sky’.
‘Ramblin’ Man’ swaggers along in the grand tradition of Hank Williams with Bett’s beautiful interwining guitar lines criss-crossing. ‘Jessica’ is an instrumental in the same tradition with great swing. The band jell perfectly here and this track may stand out in future as a strong stereotype of the Allman’s new, less frenetic, more fluid approach to improvisation.
Bett’s other two songs are pleasantly unexceptional: ‘Southbound’ relies a little too much on stereotypes, while ‘Pony Boy’ is an effective old slide-and-piano blues. There’s only one bummer present: ‘Jelly Jelly’, a remarkably turgid blues.
Brothers And Sisters is by no means essential Allman Bros. It rarely rises above a highly acceptable excellence but on the same token I prefer a reticent Allman Bros, to the rapid fireworks pumped out by the majority of boogie beasts and their ilk.
Me, I’m just going to hold tight for the real dynamite when the Allmans get back to kicking with style that, as they say, should be some showdown.
© Nick Kent, New Musical Express, 18 August 1973