Album Review – Southern Blood – Gregg Allman

Today, December 8th, 2017, would have been Gregg Allman’s 70th birthday. A few months back, the mayor of Macon, GA pronounced the day to henceforth and forever be known as “Gregg Allman Day.” So this seemed like as good a time as any to review and discuss Gregg’s final album, Southern Blood, which has gotten a Grammy nomination for best “Americana” album. 

Like Bowie when he recorded Blackstar, when Gregg recorded this album he knew his time on earth was limited. Due to his ill health, Gregg was only able to record for a few hours each day. Don Was produced the album and said, “Gregg was explaining his life and making sense of it, both for the fans who stood with him for decades and for himself. The album was everything he hoped for and then some.”

Gregg recorded the album at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the same studio where brother Duane first made his reputation as an ace studio player. It was also where the Allmans did some of their early rehearsals. There was a nice sense of coming full circle on this album.

The album consists largely of covers by some of Gregg’s musical heroes – Dylan, Lowell George, Willie Dixon –  and his longtime friend Jackson Browne. One of the few original tunes on the album is one that Gregg co-wrote with his guitarist Scott Sharrard.

It’s called “My Only True Friend,” and it’s Gregg talking about how his life is that life on the road of the true musician. Sharrard says he wrote it in the voice of Duane speaking to him. It kicks the album off and has a real nice soulful feel to it. Nothing you haven’t heard Gregg due a thousand times but I instantly dug it:

I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul
When I’m gone
Please don’t fly away and find you a new love

I just can’t face living this life alone
I can’t bear to think this might be the end
But you and I both know the road is my only true friend

Spotify link

There are probably a few too many slow, elegiac songs to call this album anything like a rocker or a blues raver. But Gregg was first and foremost a blues singer. And here he pulls off (in a lower register) the Willie Dixon tune, “I Love the Life I Live.” Gregg always had a thing for horns and here there’s a nice horn section with a baritone solo.

Per Sharrard, “The Allman Brothers Band was his brother’s vision. Gregg would frequently say to me that he and his brother had a vision together for another Little Milton, Bobby Bland sort of band with horns when they were teenagers.” (There are horns on some of the outtakes from At Fillmore East. Duane loved a good sax.) This is the kind of tune the ladies sway to in the clubs.

Spotify link

The whole purpose of this recording was not just another album but a meditation on Gregg’s life. Even though he didn’t write most of the tunes, these songs are pieces of him that together tell a story.

Another nice uptempo song is Sharrard’s “Love Like Kerosene.”

Well I know I’m not a young man
And it’s time to settle down
But oh my mind gets so messed up
Every time she comes around

She’s like bad, bad whiskey
The devil in a feverish dream
Well I’m not sleepin’ near the fire
Her love’s like kerosene

Spotify link

The final song on the album is called “Song for Adam.” It’s a Jackson Browne tune from his debut 1972 album. (Browne sings harmony on this.) While the song had nothing to do with Duane, according to Was, Gregg was clearly thinking of his brother when he sang it.

In fact, he chokes up at about 4:20, unable to sing the next lines. Gregg never got to re-record the lines and so it was left in as is:

Spotify link

What can I say? This is a really fine album, closer to Laid Back than to any Allmans album and a nice remembrance of Gregg.

Rest in peace, brother.

 

 

20 thoughts on “Album Review – Southern Blood – Gregg Allman

  1. Your take is pretty much identical to how I felt about this album when I reviewed it upon its release.

    I think it’s a great final record from one of the finest artists I know. Considering the advanced stage of Gregg’s illness at the time he recorded these tracks, I find it incredible how strong and warm his voice sounds.

    I have to say Gregg’s passing and this album really got to me to an extent I didn’t anticipate – it still does as I’m writing this! It’s almost like he sings it in the great opener: “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone.”

    It’s not that I had been a fan of Gregg and the Allman Brothers for decades. In fact, I only seriously explored these guys a few years ago. Before then, pretty much all I knew was “Rambling Man.” Oh well, I suppose better late than never! At least I got to see them live once a few months prior to their final gig – a great show I won’t forget.

    While “Southern Blood” clearly is the final statement of a man who knew he was dying when he recorded the album, it is very different to me from David Bowie’s Blackstar, which really gave me the creeps. I will say that unlike Gregg, whose music I pretty much like throughout his career, I strongly favor David’s early work. “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” is his absolute highlight, in my opinion. As a “teenager of the 80s” who has a weak spot for the music of that decade, I also dig the “Let’s Dance” album – while with its commercial sound it’s a marked contrast to Ziggy, I think it’s incredibly well executed!

    One final thought about Gregg: Earlier this year, I recall reading that he supposedly wasn’t a huge fan of drawn out guitar solos – somewhat ironical since they were a signature feature of the Allman Brothers, especially during their live performances. Instead, he really loved more jazzy sounds with keyboards and horns. That’s also the reason why you don’t hear long guitar solos on this and his other solo albums.

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    1. I remember reading yours at the time, maybe even commented. I haven’t looked at it since, as I don’t want to crib, consciously or unconsciously. But truthfully, I can no longer find it as I don’t believe you have a search.

      As to the ABB, (now I will sound really old), I think I saw them about 20 times going all the way back to 1971. Hands-down one of my favorite bands ever. And then I saw one of their last shows at the Beacon in NYC.

      As to Bowie and Gregg, I can hardly think of two more different artists. Did they ever meet I wonder? They were contemporaries, hitting the scene more or less at the same time.

      Yeah, Gregg and Duane shared a love for the blues. And they both loved horns. But when Gregg was in LA in the ’60’s, he was more into the Jackson Browne singer/songwriter vein. Duane pulled him into the ABB. Duane was a full-on type-A leader; Gregg not so much. By his own admission, Duane used to beat him up pretty regularly and I think he was flat-out intimidated by Duane. But regardless of their differing approaches to music, they made some sweet sounds together.

      BTW, feel free to post a link here to your review. Love to re-read it.

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      1. Thanks and wow, 20 times – that makes YOU a true rock & roll warrior, or blues warrior! 🙂

        BTW, the reference to my previous review of the album wasn’t meant to be a veiled criticism that you didn’t mention it in your post – hope it didn’t come across that way!

        Your point about my blog’s “missing” search function is well taken. Frankly, I don’t even know whether my current free plan with WordPress would allow me to set up that feature. I will look into it!

        Meanwhile, here’s my previous take on the album: https://christiansmusicmusings.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/final-gregg-allman-studio-album-released/

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  2. Gregg and Duane each brought their own kind of excitement to ABB. Throw in another fine guitarist and songwriter (Dickey Betts), and a crack rhythm section, and what a band.

    Not to get ghoulish, but regarding “death-bed” records, Joey Ramone’s solo album “Don’t Worry Bout Me” with his single “What a Wonderful World” pretty much left me stunned.

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    1. Dickey’s manager floated the thought that Dickey might do a ten city tour in the near future. Nothing concrete, but …

      And now I gotta hear that Joey Ramone song. Can’t believe all those guys are gone.

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  3. Really interested in this one and you’re review has made sure I bump it up a few places on the list.

    My knowledge of Allman is limited and I was familiar only with his work on Boz Scaggs’ first album and Derek & The Dominos until a generous friend recently gave me a copy of the Fillmore LP.

    Anyway, there’s lots for me to discover!

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