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Published: 2003/04/26
by Chip Schramm

Hittin’ The Note – Allman Brothers Band

Peach/Sanctuary 84599-2

Whenever the Allman Brothers Band seem to have come
full circle, they always take it one step further and
add one more turn to the cycle. Much of the success
of the band over the past 30 years has stemmed from
their willingness to continuously evolve and blend new
sources of inspiration with the old. Their last studio album, Where It
All Begins offered a lot both in terms of songwriting
and the strength of a veteran band that is still
playing inspiring rock and roll. Though changes in
personnel have kept the band's lineup in rotation for
nine years, the addition of slide guitar phenom Derek
Trucks to the fray more than compensates for losses
they have experienced.

Hittin’ The Note was a long time in the making, but
the final product demonstrates beyond a shadow of a
doubt that the time invested was well worth it. Most
of the material for the songs the band chose was
road-tested on live tours, and draws on the collective
strengths of the lineup. The vocals of Gregg Allman
and Warren Haynes are well complimented by the
rhythmic platoon that plays underneath them
throughout. Haynes' return to the fold is just as
important to the production of the album as it is to
the studio play. Teaming with veteran Gov't Mule
producer Michael Barbiero, he makes a strong selection
of songs sound even better with superb work behind the
glass. Though the Allman Brothers have never lacked
for competent production, the tone of the songs on the
album possesses a crispness that is difficult to
quantify in absolute terms.

The album opens with two strong numbers, "Firing
Line" and "High Cost of Low Living." Both
serve as an interesting segue from the material on
Where It All Begins in that their verses deal with
lifestyle change and the wisdom gained from years of
overindulgence. One can't help but wonder if an
estranged former lead guitarist wasn't at least a
partial inspiration here. The instrumental
arrangement on "High Cost of Low Living" is
typical of the album in general. Warren Haynes and
Derek Trucks trade off guitar solos like a couple of
baseball players playing pitch and catch, only to
share a solo near the end as the song reaches its

"Desdemona" is a vocal skyscraper for Gregg
Allman. Though years of long touring on the
road have inevitably reduced his range in concert, in
a controlled studio setting he channels his singing as
powerfully as he has since the 1970s. The band takes
nine minutes to paint the backdrop of his love song,
extending the jam further than usual for studio album
standards. About three minutes in, the ballad breaks
down into a shuffling interlude with Trucks and
Haynes each taking several cracks at guitar
leads and working with the four-man rhythm section to
drive the song into a frenzy. Anyone who began in the
middle of the track would have a hard time telling
that the song started out at a slow and measured pace,
until the band ends the jam and returns to the
original beat.

"Old Before My Time" also showcases Allman's
singing well and provides an excellent example of
thoughtful and expressive songwriting. Wistful and
reflective, "Old Before My Time" contains some of
the best lyrics on the album: "When I was younger, thought I'd rule the
world /
It was an oyster at my feet / Dancing to my own drum, fishing out the

The song is especially poignant, with the mixture of
youth and experience in the current lineup. The hefty
verses could just as easily symbolize Derek Trucks'
lessons on the road from age 14 as they could Gregg
Allman's lifetime of rock and roll touring since the

Even with a relatively new lineup, the blues base for
the tunes on the album keeps the band close to the
soil where their roots have traditionally grown. The
material serves to fortify the
musical traditions that the band has both followed and
created on many of their past projects. It wouldn't
be fair to say that they have recycled anything from
their past nearly as much as they have drawn on their
own strengths and tendencies to pick material that
showcases their strongest suits.

The band includes a very surprising cover of the
Rolling Stones' "Heart Of Stone." Supposedly recorded at
the recommendation of band manager Bert Holman, the
Allman version is a little bit rougher around the
edges vocally than the original, yet is
interesting and entertaining for that very reason.

The last two tracks on the album are perhaps the most
intriguing. "Instrumental Illness" is a
self-described jam, a 12 minute improvisational free-for-all that is as
as the band can get to a live performance without
leaving the confines of the studio. Long jamming
instrumentals are a hallmark of older Allman Brothers
albums, and this one continues the tradition,
filtering the strongest parts of it through Haynes and
Trucks in a way that the late Duane Allman would have
been able to appreciate.

"Old Friend" is a highly-charged, emotional tune
with slide guitar and dobro interplay between Haynes
and Trucks that is a bit more stripped-down than
elsewhere on the album. Haynes and Trucks have been playing music
together long enough – since the early Derek Trucks Band albums – that they
can (and do) complete
each other's guitar lines in an impressive fashion.

Hittin’ The Note serves both to revisit and
reinvent the studio success of the Allman Brothers
Band. By the time the band members were in the studio
to record, the notion of a "new" lineup didn't really
apply. Here is a group of musicians comfortable with
each other and comfortable in their own skin, playing
the same style of music that has made themselves and
countless others happy for more than a generation.
With any luck, Hittin’ The Note will continue to
make music fans smile for another generation to come.

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