Critics who dismiss the newly released Hittin’ the Note as just another solid but typical Allman Brothers Band album clearly haven’t followed the 35-year evolution of the most dependably spine-tingling live band.
Either that, or they just haven’t read the liner notes.
Most notably, this is the Brothers first studio album in nine years, recorded with a monumentally altered line-up.
While Greg Allman’s growl remains the signature seal of their sound, the Brothers are forever a guitar band, and none of the current guitarists jammed with the band before 1989. Hmmm.
Here’s the lowdown in a miniature nutshell:
The Brotherhood formed in 1969 through the efforts of legendary guitarist Duane Allman — the mythical founding father — to unite his golden-voiced (and -haired) brother Greg, guitarist Dicky Betts, bassist Berry Oakley and drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe. Duane died on a motorcycle in ’71, and Berry suffered an identical fate one year later.
Since then, seven adopted bothers have drifted in and out and sometimes back into the Brotherhood.
Now that the dust has settled, founders Greg, Butch and Jaimoe remain as senior members, along with Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes, Butch’s son Derek — who bears a haunting resemblance to Duane — on guitar, jamband veteran Oteil Burbridge on bass and Bronx native Marc Quinones on percussion.
Judging from the overwhelmingly positive critical response to recent performance and the vitality of Hittin’ the Note, the current lineup is arguably the best since the days of Duane.
Derek’s powerfully emotive slide riffs, paired with Haynes’ architecturally stylized licks and Oteil’s aesthetic versatility, raise the rhythm section and Greg’s playing to astounding peaks.
And Hittin’ captures the Allmans’ elegant spontaneity as much as any previous live recording, save the Fillmore East shows. The album extends beyond the Southern rock roots of the band, dishing up progressive double guitar, funky group improve excursions and jazz arrangements that the recently fired Dickey Betts would have dismissed as “space chords.”
Besides a blues standard (“Woman Across the River”) and a cover of the early Stones’ honky tonk classic “Heart of Stone,” Warren Haynes took part in writing and producing every track. The mellow Gov’t Mule influence adds space for more interaction between the bass and organ under the guitars.
In the blazing opener “Firing Line,” Greg’s punchy synth-organ lays down a funky foundation, allowing Warren’s solo to transcend the expected bluesy climax. In the double time bridge of “Desdemona,” Derek channels the weightless, pure tone of Duane’s slide work in the original 1969 recording of “Dreams.” Other peaks include the bebop-tinged “Instrumental Illness” — a Haynes-Burbridge collaboration — and Greg’s State of the Brotherhood address “Old Before My Time.”
Like Soloman Burke’s recent success Don’t Give Up on Me, Hittin’ the Note exudes an air of subdued nostalgia and redeems an ageless verve. As with any Allmans album, one or two tracks should have been left in the vault, and some of Greg’s lyrical vocab is secondhand.ÊBut this album hits the right note, and holds it long enough to tell a legendary band’s history and let you peek into the future.