Review Summary: The South's greatest sons provide a taste of what's to come before their superstardom a year later.Every week for the foreseeable future (or until I get bored of the project), I will be reviewing a handful of albums from a given year. They may be albums that I feel are overlooked; that are in need of a review; or are just something that I want to write about. This week: 1970
To call the Allman Brothers Band the greatest and most important southern rock band would be an understatement. Although the duo's classic era was a brief five years due in large part to the tragic deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, that string of albums defined a sound for generations to come. Their sophomore effort, Idlewild South
is perhaps their least popular work from that time period, but it establishes itself as an important part of the southern American musical canon in just half an hour.
The Allman Brothers Band were:
Gregg Allman - vocals, piano, organ
Duane Allman - lead guitar, slide guitar, acoustic guitar
Dickey Betts - lead guitar
Berry Oakley - bass
Butch Trucks - drums, timpani
Jai "Jaimoe" Johanson - drums, congas, timbales, percussion
Despite its 30-minute run time, one could make a case that Idlewild South
packs more diversity than anything else in the Allmans' catalog. The four tracks that make up side one could all be by separate bands. Opener "Revival" is gospel by way of the hippie movement; "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'" is a standard blues boogie; hit single "Midnight Rider" is a country road tune; and the album's instrumental centerpiece, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," is the Allman Brothers at their jazziest. Through it all, Duane Allman and Dickey Betts show why they were America's greatest guitar duo, deftly playing all of those different styles and unleashing some blistering solos on "Elizabeth Reed"--it wasn't as big of a hit as "Jessica," but that song didn't have Duane's magic in it.
Side two is closer to a blues workout, starting with a fiery interpretation of Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man" and ending with the wicked groove of "Leave My Blues at Home." In between those two pieces is the ballad "Please Call Home," which provides the best chance for Gregg Allman to demonstrate his vocal abilities. It would be forgivable to mistake Allman for Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant at the beginning of the song, as his style is a clear influence on Van Zant. He doesn't totally lose it like on the iconic "Whipping Post," but it's still Allman at his most soulful.
All three songs on side two feature (again) the dueling guitars of Betts and Duane Allman, which are always welcome, but special attention should be paid to the two drumsets of Jaimoe and Butch Trucks as well as the solid bass foundation provided by Berry Oakley. "Leave My Blues at Home" ends with the a fade out of the full band jamming, which is what they do best. More importantly, it leaves the listener wanting more. The brevity of this album does little to prepare for the length of their live jams or the double album masterpiece Eat a Peach
, but it's clear that the Allman Brothers Band were on a steep upward trajectory toward their peak. Unfortunately, like this album, that time would be all too brief.