- Allman Brothers Band
- Brothers and Sisters
Shakespeare never met The Allman Brothers Band, but his oft-referenced quote concerning greatness- those that are born with it, achieve it, or have it thrust upon them- certainly seems to apply to the boys from Macon, Georgia circa 1973. With the band’s founder, leader, and driving instrumental force, guitarist Duane Allman (1971), and dynamic bassist Berry Oakley (1972) having perished in successive autumn motorcycle accidents, it was a valid question as to whether there would even still be an Allman Brothers Band. While no longer containing a literal component, the name remained, leaving singer Gregg, the lone Allman brother, to move out occasionally from behind the Hammond B-3 and reluctantly pick up a guitar, assuming center stage while the group operated briefly as a quintet. By the time Brothers and Sisters was originally released, the line-up that would lead an unlikely charge to the top of the pop charts, and more fittingly appear alongside the Grateful Dead and The Band in front of 600,000 at Watkins Glen in the summer of ‘73, was back to a sextet and the most popular group in the country.
On this its 40th anniversary, Brothers and Sisters has been given the deluxe treatment, not once but twice, as both 2-CD and 4-CD format options have been compiled to celebrate the Allman Brothers Band at its commercial peak. The former, a simple remaster of the album itself and bonus rehearsal tracks, is a study in comparison and contrast. The rehearsal cuts reveal a band working, with many familiar songs from the live repertoire getting their runs with the new players. In the case of “Trouble No More” or “One Way Out” it remains curious as to whether the band was rehearsing the potential of these songs for inclusion on the record or just negotiating how they would sound with keyboardist Chuck Leavell in place of a second lead guitar. “Early Morning Blues” is really a gestational version of what would become “Jelly Jelly,” and the “A Minor Jam” is an exciting, if at times meandering, glimpse into the band’s improvisational mechanics.
The proper album is what it always has been, with a fresh coat of volume and sheen. It’s the Allman Brothers Band that most radio listeners heard for the first time. The wedding of country and blues emerging from Dickey Betts’ songwriting, the subtle, yet powerful of bass of newcomer Lamar Williams, not to mention Oakley’s last sessions before his passing (“Wasted Words,” “Ramblin’ Man”), and the apparent shift of direction and leadership to guitarist Betts comprise a transitional album that probably felt more so at the time, but now stands as both pinnacle and preview of the group dynamic, one that would last for two more records before a break-up and subsequent reunion, sans Leavell and Williams.
One of those records featuring this ensemble is the double-live Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas, a collection of concert tracks from 1973-75 including several from a September 26, 1973 date at San Francisco’s Winterland. It is from this night that the latter two discs of the four-disc edition draw, presented here as the full show, including the previously released quartet of tunes from Wipe the Windows. The 17-song set is loaded with incentives, like the only officially released live take of “Ramblin’ Man,” and a bittersweet “Blue Sky” without the trademark twin-guitar harmony. Captured late into the tour, the Brothers had adjusted quite well to the new musical arrangements. Adjusting to the newfound fame, however, brought eventual mixed results. The selection of the Winterland concert as a crowning moment for this unit is appropriate, as the heights of success and band harmony prove to be abbreviated.
In the most comprehensive light, the deluxe editions of Brothers and Sisters are thorough, yet balanced presentations of The Allman Brothers Band at this moment in their history. From studio to rehearsal hall to stage, the evolution of style and scope, the extended jamming and the songwriting craft, the tribute and the triumph are all thoughtfully woven into a four-disc journey. 40 years later, and greatness achieved and thrust upon them sounds better than ever.