Forty summers ago, the Allman Brothers album “Brothers and Sisters” was top of the charts, with “Ramblin’ Man” a hit single. Proof, surely, that the Seventies was not quite the musical desert many have made it out to be. For, while much of what the Allmans – in various guises – recorded later does not really stand the test of time, this album is a bold amalgam of styles that would still stand out if released today. No wonder, Universal Music wants to honour the anniversary by releasing it in a special boxed set.
The first of the four discs presents the original album, remastered and complete with “Ramblin’ Man”, the wonderful instrumental “Jessica” and various other takes on country and blues courtesy of the pens of organist Gregg Allman and guitar star Richard Betts. The third and fourth discs offer live recordings of the tour undertaken to support the album and supply further evidence of the band’s strengths as a live act, with lengthy jams to rival those of the Grateful Dead.
But it is the second disc that makes this set really worthwhile. At first glance, it is a collection of rehearsals and outtakes largely culled from sessions designed to familiarise the new band members – Chuck Leavell on keyboards and Lamar Williams on bass – with the members surviving the deaths of guitar super hero Duane Allman (during the making of the previous release “Eat A Peach”) and bass player Berry Oakley (in the early stages of the making of this record). But in reality it shows a band coming together almost like a crack jazz unit with each player given the space to perform without threatening the balance of the overall unit. Even now a band featuring only one guitarist but two keyboards and two drummers alongside a bass player would attract frowns; then it would have been almost revolutionary. And yet listening to these sessions, it seems to make perfect sense. The driving dense percussion kept together by a steady bass creates a solid foundation for the contrasting styles of keyboard playing and the soaring guitar solos.
The original record was one of my first purchases (I still recall hurrying home with my booty in a bag flapping from my bicycle handlebars) and has remained a firm favourite ever since. But this package has given it a new lease of life and should be appreciated by anybody fascinated by how blues and country (and a little jazz) can create stunning rock music.