“Give ‘em flowers while they can still smell ‘em.”
True and wise words for us all to remember: if you can say “Thank you” or “We love you” while the person you’re saying it to can still hear you, do it.
In Gregg Allman’s case, one hopes there are many years’ worth of songs filling the air yet to come, but at this point in time – 2014 being the 45th anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band (and the band’s future unclear) – pausing to show appreciation for the man’s contributions to the soundtrack of life is a good thing.
And so it was that an amazing cast of players gathered at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA on 1/10/14 to pay tribute to Mr. Allman; and the new three-disc (double CD/single DVD) All My Friends – Celebrating The Songs & Voice Of Gregg Allman from Rounder Records does a great job of putting you right in the thick of it.
Whether it be baseball or music, anytime you assemble an all-star lineup, there’s always going to be debate on who was chosen vs. who wasn’t. One thing’s for sure regarding the All My Friends evening, however: the house band was incredible. Don Was doubled up as musical director and bassist, tending the engine room with drummer Kenny Aronoff. Chuck Leavell’s distinctive piano and Rami Jaffee’s big-assed B-3 organ sound were complemented by Jimmy Hall’s soulful blues harp. The McCrary Sisters (Regina, Ann and Alfreda) were on hand to add tasty layers of vocal warmth. Hornmen Jim Hoke (sax), Vinnie Ciecielski (trumpet), and trombonist John Hinchey helped drive home the grooves and crank up the emotions. And at the core of it all were veteran guitarists Jack Pearson and Audley Freed, two players who have never been spotlight-seekers, but have made every musical situation they’ve been a part of a better one. (More on them both in a bit.)
With 26 performances featuring numerous combinations of guests (including two tunes by the present-day Allman Brothers Band) representing multiple musical genres, there’s basically something for everybody on All My Friends – a tribute in itself to Gregg Allman’s influence. We’ll take a look at a few highlights; the bottom line is, this is a great document of musical history.
Nastiest Bass Run Of The Night: Dan Was’ fatbacked tones that lead the way into the final verse of “Stand Back”. Short and sweet, but perfect. Berry Oakley would’ve loved it. Susan Tedeschi takes the lead vox on this one, with husband Derek Trucks joining the house band on guitar.
Coolest “Duane ‘n’ Dickey” Flash: Audley Freed and Jack Pearson on “One Way Out” when the band falls away, leaving them to blast some vintage-flavored licks back and forth.
Best Example Of “That’s All It Takes”: Sam Moore comes out for “Please Call Home”, steps up to the mic with just Chuck Leavell’s piano in the background and goes, “Well …” There’s more soul in that one word than many achieve in a lifetime of trying. And wait until you hear the rest of the song.
Biggest “What The Hell Was That All About?” Moment: Let’s face it: “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” would be a tough cover for anyone to tackle. The original version was the opening cut on Eat A Peach and felt like Gregg Allman’s mantra in the wake of his brother Duane’s death. (Although things actually ended up taking a turn for the blacker.) So whether country star Eric Church’s performance was fueled by nerves or natural energy, it does come off feeling a bit over-the-top. It’s obvious on the DVD, but even the audio version delivers the essence of Church’s passionate-in-the-wrong-places vocal. (Add in the tippy-toed arm waving and quivering shoulders and it’s pretty amazing.) At the same time …
Best Humble Guitar Hero Moment: There are actually too many instances of brilliance on the part of Jack Pearson to discuss: his slow dance with Hall’s harp on “Melissa”; his channeling of Duane Allman on “Statesboro Blues”; the swap-offs with Derek Trucks on “Stand Back”; his jazzbo excursion on “Let This Be A Lesson To Ya” … just for starters. But if you had to single out one tune from 1/10/14 to best describe Pearson’s ability and attitude, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time” would have to be it. He puts his own spin on the mid-song break (Dickey Betts’ was on slide for the original, post-Duane), then takes off on a flight path of his own on the outro. The solo is powerful, yet tasteful; Pearson takes his time building the beast, topping things off with a salvo fired from somewhere around the bridge pickup on the treble string. As amazing as it is to listen to, I’m sorry: you gotta watch the video, as well. Pearson looks like he’s waiting for the bus while everyone else in the Fox Theatre is picking their jaw up off the floor.
The Unlikeliest-Yet-Coolest White Guy You Know: John Hiatt, hands down. Hiatt (who’s been stone cold sober for decades) might break into a spontaneous rooster dance – looking like that time your Uncle Ned had one too many Natural Lights before the Thanksgiving turkey was done – but he’s so danged funky just the same. Hiatt’s take on “One Way Out” is loose as a goose and just plain rump-bumping fun.
The Out-There-And-Back Award: Jimmy Herring and Derek Trucks on Widespread Panic’s version of “Wasted Words”. From the opening notes, you’re just waiting for it to happen. The picking is one thing; the smiles make it all the better.
Bluesman Supreme: Jimmy Hall, who weaves his harp tastefully into everything from the country soul of “Can You Fool” (joining the voices of Martina McBride and Pat Monahan) to the raw funkiness of “Just Another Rider” (with Keb’ Mo’). When Hall leads the house band into “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had”, it’s a lesson in how it’s done: swagger that’s never cocky; cool mixed with humor.
Time Capsule-Worthy Tone: Audley Freed’s solo on “I’m No Angel”. This should be stowed away so that centuries from now, future civilizations can listen to it and know what a Gibson SG was meant to sound like.
Class Act: Vince Gill. His vocals and guitar work on “Multi-Colored Lady” are totally his own; he then provides subtle harmonies behind Gregg Allman and Zac Brown on “Midnight Rider” before letting loose with a muscular lead … and all the time, simply looks happy to be in the building.
Best Trailblazing: Derek Trucks’ opening solo on “Dreams” with the Allman Brothers Band. I don’t care how many times the Brothers have played it; I don’t care how many times you’ve listened to it; Trucks bushwacks a new path into the jam with his slide that’ll grab your attention as you wonder where he’s headed with it.
Best Roar: Taj Mahal, hands down. (And, on the DVD, Best Shirt, as well.)
“Hello, Old Friend” Moment: Gregg Allman’s smile during “Melissa” when Jackson Browne takes a verse. Again, it doesn’t matter how many times Allman has performed the song – there’s no hint of autopilot here. Just heart and soul.
There’s much, much more – we haven’t even mentioned the magic of Dr. John, the big hat of Trace Adkins or Robert Randolph and Devon Allman’s picking party, for instance – but by now you get the idea, I’m sure.
All My Friends is more than a “Thank you” to Gregg Allman; it’s a one-of-a-kind summit of talent.
“Give ‘em flowers while they can still smell ‘em.” Indeed.
Brian Robbins bushwacks and trims the edges over at www.brian-robbins.com