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Published: 2011/01/17
by Brian Robbins

Gregg Allman
Low Country Blues

Rounder Records

There was a part of me – that usually-ignored part that occasionally tries to get my attention with cries of “Be professional! Be objective! Don’t get caught up in the emotion of the moment!” – that wanted to forget the backstory behind Gregg Allman’s new solo album, Low Country Blues.

That’s right: I tried not to think about the fact that Allman was battling Hepatitis C during the recording of the album. And I didn’t want to get hung up on the knowledge that when he laid down the vocals on the album opener “Floating Bridge”, it was months before the liver transplant that eventually saved his life. And I attempted not to play and re-play that track, listening to that boneyard rhythm section, the no-frills piano, the ghostly guitars, and the singer testifying about the muddy water that filled his insides and wondering if he lived – or if he’s telling us about it from the other side.

And I really, really tried not to dwell on the fact that when Gregg Allman cut that track, there was no guarantee that he was going to live to hear the finished album.

But I failed. There was no denying it: Low Country Blues stands on its own hind legs as a mighty fine piece of work, but knowing what was going down with Allman at the time of the sessions makes it all the more powerful. Talk about your true grit – this is the real shit.

Nobody could ever take the place of the late, great producer Tom Dowd when it comes to that just-right combination of freedom and control that so brilliantly captured Gregg and his fellow Allman Brothers through the years. But T Bone Burnett pulls it off in his own way, giving Allman both a vintage-sounding sonic palette to work with and bringing in some killer players to get the job done. (It’s no surprise that Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack and Doyle Bramhall II turn in brilliant performances on piano and guitar, respectively, but it’s the rhythm section of drummer Jay Bellerose and Dennis Crouch’s acoustic bass that solidifies things, providing a foundation that spans the gamut from making you want to pull the covers tighter around you to throwing them aside and simply shaking your ass.)

Allman is totally comfortable in the setting arranged by Burnett, with the album sounding raw and spontaneous. He digs in and lets it fly on everything from the big and powerful Ray Charles-style arrangements of tunes such as “Blind Man” and “Tears, Tears, Tears” to the stripped-down-and-chugging grease of “I Believe I’ll Go back Home” and Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied”.

Low Country Blues is a collection of covers for the most part; the one exception being “Just Another Rider”, penned by Allman and Warren Haynes. The fact that it nestles in nicely with songs from the likes of Bobby “Blue” Bland, Skip James, Otis Rush, Junior Wells, and B.B. King is both a testament to the solidness of “Just Another Rider” as a piece of music and Allman’s ability to nail the soul of the album’s other cuts.

The bottom line is, Gregg Allman – even though he was only 22 years old at the time – sounded like a road-worn-dues-paid-seen-and-done-it-all veteran blues master back when he laid into the vocal on “It’s Not My Cross To Bear” on the first side of the Allman Brothers’ debut album.

Low Country Blues is the work of a man who’s become what he sounded like 42 years ago.

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