Review Summary: Triumphant as it is tragic, The Allman Brothers Band's 12th studio album acts as both a stunning return to past glory, and a heavy hearted closing chapter in the band's mountainous studio recording career.
If there was one thing the Allman Brothers Band were better at than destroying themselves with tragedy and turmoil, it was bouncing back from it. After the premature and ultimately avoidable death of Duane Allman in a motorcycle accident shortly following opus release ...At Fillmore East
, the band shot right back up with an equally brilliant and wistful studio album Eat a Peach
in his memory, proving they were a force to be reckoned with. Still, the curse of bad luck wasn't finished with them yet, as the Allman Brothers Band encountered tragedy almost instantly afterwards when Berry Oakley died in another motorcycle accident, at the same age and in nearly the same place as Duane Allman. Refusing to quit, the band completed their next album, Brothers and Sisters
and garnished huge commercial success with hit single “Ramblin' Man.” A series of personal conflicts, drug abuse, turmoil, and constant dissolution made this glory short-lived and resulted in a four-album and near decade-long stretch of musical disappointment – the kind that puts the final nail in even the most famous and respected band's careers. And yet even after this the group trucked on, returning in the 90's and flipping the tables completely with three critically acclaimed studio releases. Hittin' the Note
is the fourth and quintessential part of this comeback sequence, the flag atop the mountain; the best thing the band has done in the studio in nearly 30 years and the biggest, mightiest "*** you" to any criticism they received in the '70s and '80s. Although this triumphant comeback shines through in many tracks on the album, Hittin' the Note
is, simultaneously, a piece of heavy-hearted closure as what is almost undoubtedly the final chapter in the band's studio recording career.
Regardless, the double-edged sword of emotional weight and jubilant triumph is a ferocious one. The album wastes no time in charging on with “Firing Line” in all its cruising, guitar-driven, riff centric glory. “Firing Line” is Southern rock done with pinprick precision, and all the elements come together here perfectly to form an instantly loveable and energetic performance; Allman's gruff and gritty vocal delivery, a tight, persistent rhythm, a familiar swagger in it's lead riff and enough wailing rock 'n' roll solos to keep the guitar nerd in all of us satisfied. The aforementioned sense of achievement and glory seems to provide the perfect vehicle for the more energetic tracks on the album, as “Maydell” and “Who to Believe” follow in a similar vein, each band member firing out top-notch performances as if it's no big deal – and as if questionable past decisions like Brothers of the Road
and Reach for the Sky
had never happened at all. The wah-wah guitar riffs of “Maydell,” the impassioned vocal delivery of “Who to Believe,” the frantic percussion in “Instrumental Illness,” it's all the sound of a band at the top of it's game, releasing the same bluesy, jam-centric rock 'n' roll that made them so damn great all the way back in the '70s.
On the other hand, however, with a history as dramatic as The Allman Brothers Band's, there's no way to make a final statement like this one without letting a tear or two loose. Heavy-handed blues jams litter the disc; tracks like “High Cost of Low Living,” “Desdemona” and “Heart of Stone” marry Allman's soulful, tired vocals with frustrated (and even, in Desdemona's case, angry and energetic) instrumental segments in a truly moving package without letting the album's pace slip. But the most powerful and truly stunning moment here comes with “Old Before My Time,” a song that wonders almost into country power-ballad territory with it's melodic vocal delivery and acoustic leanings. The style shift provides the perfect opportunity for Allman to lament on the ups and downs of his life in the music industry; “Chasin' a dream around the world/Has got me feeling down/Though it used to get me high
” he admits in the verses, before painfully concluding that the rocky road his career has traveled has made him feel old before his time in one of the most vulnerable and emotional moments the band has ever conjured up - accompanied, of course, by a wailing, weeping slide guitar solo.
All in all, this partnership of undefeated musical prowess and confidence, and unguarded nostalgic emotion, is perhaps the perfect setting for the Allman Brothers Bands' patented brand of bluesy, guitar-centric southern rock. Although they continue to tour to this day, Hittin' the Note
is the sound of the Allman Brothers Band - their influence and place in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame firmly secured - closing off a rocky, turmoil-laden chapter of their lives for good; in truly spectacular fashion.