By Martine Ehrenclou
By the time Gregg Allman began recording his last album, Southern Blood, at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, to be released on Rounder Records September 8th, 2017, he had planned to produce an album with a selection of songs that had meaning for him. Aware that cancer was to shorten his life considerably, he approached the project with an agenda. He wanted to create a musical farewell to his legion of fans and capture the sound of the Gregg Allman Band because he considered them the tightest band that had backed him in his 40-year solo career.
Southern Blood is a remarkable accomplishment from legendary musician, Gregg Allman, whose music contributions have shaped Rock & Roll. Southern Blood feels personal, intimate, perhaps even more so in the shadow of his death in May of 2017. It’s hard not to listen to the lyrics in light of the fact that Allman had serious health issues and he knew it. An emotional 10-track album, Southern Blood will beckon you into Gregg Allman’s musical history and into the present of what is left behind for us.
Allman chose songs written by friends and favorite artists, including Jackson Browne, Willie Dixon, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, Lowell George, Tim Buckley and Larry Beckett, Bob Dylan, and more. Allman collaborated on the 10 songs with his manager and friend, Michael Lehman and Grammy Award-winning producer and friend, Don Was.
Southern Blood opens with, “My Only True Friend” (Gregg Allman and Scott Sharrard.) Allman reflects on his life, and life on the road. The six-minute rock ballad is classic Gregg Allman.
I’ve got so much left to give
But I’m running out of time, my friend
I hope you’re haunted
By the music of my soul
When I’m gone.
Even though there are reports that this song is not about the end of the road, it’s a haunting tune that can’t belie the lyrics. It’s a personal song, almost as if Allman is singing directly to listeners. It’s no wonder it was released as a single. It’s also a tribute to life on the road and what it meant to Allman. It’s a beautifully produced song, which features Allman’s trademark vocals and piano, and captures the band in its glory.
Although not a melancholy tune, “Once I Was” (Tim Buckley, Larry Beckett) made me wonder if Allman was glancing in the rear-view mirror with reflection. This is an introspective Gregg Allman. After listening to this track and others, I also wondered if each of these songs were chosen for specific people in his life as each has a different meaningful theme.
“Going Going Gone” (Bob Dylan) is transformed from a Dylan folk tune to a Southern rock rendition with country twang. Allman’s vocals tell the emotional story about “Closin’ the book on pages and text” but also about letting go and breaking free. The band is in full swing on this tune and a moving guitar solo rounds out the song.
“Willin’” (Lowell George) opens with acoustic guitar and is true to the original but with Gregg Allman’s touch and feel. His strong vocals, lovely piano solo and a pedal steel guitar, form a strong centerpiece for the song. The big sound of the band energizes the feel, and back up singers book-end the full sound.
“I Love the Life I Live” (Willie Dixon) is one of my favorites on the album. Allman gets gritty with his vocals on this tune, a welcomed punctuation from the fairly somber initiation to the tracks. Allman’s vocal talents really shine here. He lends a swampy, blues, country-ish flavor to the Dixon tune and you can hear the fun he’s having singing and playing it.
“Love Like Kerosene” (Scott Sharrard) is funky, blues-country and another up-tempo tune that will delight many Gregg Allman fans with piano solos and a foot stomping beat.
The album closes with, “Song for Adam” (Jackson Browne.) The song is rich with acoustic guitar and moving vocals. It seems an appropriate choice for the last chapter of Southern Blood, as the song reminded Allman of his late brother, Duane Allman, according to the Gregg Allman website. It’s more of a country ballad than some of the other tracks. Allman aligned fairly closely to the Jackson Browne original with the exception of a pedal steel guitar and full band.
I didn’t expect to feel inspired by Southern Blood in light of Gregg Allman’s passing. But I was. Invigorated maybe, as if the beauty of the album was rediscovering Gregg Allman’s music, recapturing maybe, an appreciation for his lasting musical gifts.
Southern Blood by Gregg Allman will be released September 8th 2017 and can be found: