Two new archival releases from the Allman Brothers Band, featuring live recordings made 34 years apart, make a mounting case for the seminal, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees to be better classified as an immortal institution of American music. The Final Note presents founding guitarist Duane Allman’s last live performance with the ensemble- in Owings Mills, Maryland on October 17, 1971. The band’s Warner Theatre appearance in Erie, Pennsylvania on July 19, three and a half decades later, presents one of the 2005 ABB lineup’s more treasured evenings.
The respective sets share four of the same songs, and three charter members- Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, and Jaimoe- yet regardless of repertoire or personnel, more specifically they share an unshakeable ethos: a deeply-held reverence for blues, jazz, country, and soul expressed and improvised through boundless, stellar musicianship. And while the ’71 show, extracted from a journalist’s handheld cassette recorder, comes bearing a caveat for its (diminished) quality, the road-sharpened chops of this powerhouse unit muscle their way through the muffles.
As anyone listening will attest, Duane Allman and Dickey Betts were a guitar duo of unparalleled symbiosis, and by the fall of ’71 were finding new peaks of performance every night. The 2005 Brothers countered with Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, also firing on all cylinders in this midsummer monster of a show. It’s an Allman Brothers Band requisite- a display of guitar magnificence meeting the high standard Allman and Betts set back in 1969- but as individuals, and as a duo, Trucks and Haynes are astounding players all their own, empowering the ABB to be as evolutionary in the 21st century as they once were revolutionary in the 20th.
The ’71 concert is relatively short, and made shorter still by an “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” cut regrettably as the tape runs out just ahead of Duane’s solo. It’s a standard songlist for the time, splashed with a guest spot by hornman Juicy Carter, and closes with a determinedly gnashing “Whipping Post,” played by “request” (after Duane playfully baits the raucous crowd). The 2005 show, over two discs, invites Susan Tedeschi to help on Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” stretches out the standard “Good Morning Little School Girl” into blues nirvana, and nods to Betts on a joyous and bursting “Jessica,” among its many highlights.
The storyline of the Allman Brothers Band, after five decades, is dotted with entries other than music. Yet, despite all the tragedy and turmoil that lies alongside the tunes, it takes only spins of “One Way Out,” in ’71 and in ’05, to hear these musicians become messengers; vessels entrusted with the hallowed spirits of Elmore James or Muddy Waters or Sonny Boy Williamson- the roots of American music- carrying them from one generation to the next; from one summit to the next. Thankfully, with releases like this pair, Duane Allman’s final notes and those of the 2005 ABB can echo forever.