Monday, September 11, 2017

Music Review: Southern Blood by Gregg Allman



Earlier this year on May 27, 2017 (as my wife and I were celebrating my youngest son’s second birthday) my brother texted me with the tragic news that we lost Gregg Allman. Last Friday we got his final musical statement titled, “Southern Blood.” Previously I shared my thoughts on Story & Grit of how Gregg’s legacy affected me personally when I was in turmoil about the region of the world I grew up in. Instead of repeating myself I’ll go straight into the review. 

Southern Blood opens with the one original song, “My Only True Friend,” the album has to offer. Man, what an opening statement. The bridge before the chorus declares, “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone.” I got chills when I heard that line. The song is very reminiscent of the Allman Brothers which I found unusual since Gregg usually flirted with other territories in his solo work. I didn’t have to double check the personnel to know that was Warren Haynes playing lead and singing backup. If it’s not I would be surely shocked! The twin lead guitar is a great taste for those stuck in the “what might have been” of what another ABB album would’ve sounded like. Two minutes and fifty six seconds in there’s a guitar solo that literally made me grab my own and go to work with my ears and fingers to figure out what was going on. Gregg, your music still inspires even though you’re not with us anymore! 

The next nine songs are all covers that Gregg held in high regards. Starting with Once I Was, a song originally recorded by Tim Buckley, I get the feeling that Gregg, in his old age, was nostalgic and sentimental. There’s a great sax solo in this one and the song really sets the mood for the simplistic continuation the rest of the album has to offer. Normally I expect Gregg Allman’s work to be a deliverance of everyone’s technical profiency on their respective instruments but I actually found the laid back nature of this album to be quite enjoyable. Take for instance the acoustic Going Going Gone, a song which features elements of almost every American genre, a pedal steel and a dobro to double the country and blues feel, a horns section to bring the R&B flavor, and rounded out by a gospel choir. Gregg proves his diversity, a contributing factor to his staying power, once again!

Gregg offers up a personal take on a Grateful Dead tune, Black Muddy River, which I found to be very intriguing since I love the Dead as much as the Allman Bros. Once again the pedal steel maintains a country flavor which is accompanied by a mandolin. The diversity of instruments from track to track kept me on the edge of my seat. I really enjoyed Gregg’s take on this tune. I Love The Life I Live is more of what Gregg’s fans would’be expected from his output. He doesn’t disappoint with his guttural growl over the gritty blues guitar. I found Willin’ to be both an interesting and predictable cover to tackle but, honestly (please don’t write me any hatemail), I didn’t feel like anything new was offered up with this tune. If my honesty offends anyone please keep your comments PG. 

The next three tracks deliver the soul and blues that Gregg was notorious for. The last song we get is a duet with one of his closest friends, Jackson Browne, titled Song For Adam. I formerly read he related the lyrics of this song to the death of Duane and it almost sounds like he chokes up when he says the line, “Still it seems he stopped singing in the middle of his song.” To be honest, it may take me a few listens with this album before I can hear Gregg saying anything other than goodbye. Even the producer, Don Was, said it felt like that in the studio when they recorded it a little over a year before his passing.

I don’t know that I could’ve handled listening to this immediately after Gregg decided to move on. I’ve never been able to passively listen to music so this album was very heavy for me. I’ve lived to see a lot of my heroes die but none of them as close to home as Gregg Allman so that made this the hardest review I’ve had to write so far. If you share a mutual passion for his music hopefully you found this last album to be as fulfilling as I. It was amazing to me that an album consisting of mostly covers could still touch on a life filled with love & loss as well as lessons learned and the sentiment they leave you with. Southern Blood is a paradox because on the one hand it’s the final chapter of a life well lived and on the other it’s a reminder of a God size void that will be with us all until we see Gregg and Duane on the other side of what comes next someday.

Bio Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at facebook.com/westmorelandsounds
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