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Southern Blood (Deluxe Edition)
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SOUTHERN BLOOD serves as a remarkable final testament from an artist whose contributions have truly shaped rock & roll throughout the past four decades. This is Allman's first all-new recording since 2011's GRAMMY® Award-nominated solo landmark, LOW COUNTRY BLUES. Produced by Don Was and recorded in Muscle Shoals where Duane Allman and the earliest seeds of the Allman Brothers Band were sown, Southern Blood is among the most uniquely personal of the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer's career. This emotionally expansive collection of songs written by friends and favorite artists including Jackson Browne, Willie Dixon, Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter, Lowell George and Spooner Oldham & Dan Penn serves as a salutary farewell to his legion of devoted fans and admirers.
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Indeed it may be hindsight but I found that the whole album has an elegiac, wistful feel - Tim Buckley’s “Once I Was” and Dylan’s “Going Going Gone” are soulful, deeply moving songs and The Grateful Dead’s "Black Muddy River" carries on in the same vein. Willie Dixon's blues "I Love The Life I Live" lifts the gloom somewhat and is perhaps Gregg admitting that his own hedonistic lifestyle was responsible for his early death. The wistful theme is picked up again with a nice version of Lowell George’s “Willin’” and "Blind Bats and Swamp Rats" is an old Johnny Jenkins’ swamp blues that originally featured backing by The Allman Brothers (minus Gregg). Similarly the old Dan Penn/Spooner Oldham soul ballad “Out of Left Field” was recorded at FAME by Percy Sledge and is a nice link to the past, while “Love Like Kerosene” is a more recent driving blues song by guitarist Scott Sharrard.
The last studio track is Jackson Browne’s “Song for Adam” with long-time friend Jackson adding his vocals to this song telling of the death of a young man, which has echoes of brother Duane’s death. The album is rounded out by rocking live versions of "I Love The Life I Live" and “Love Like Kerosene” – perhaps designed to leave us with the sentiment “the road is my only true friend”.
This is a really good record that is a fine memorial to Gregg, with the band and the production also playing their part in making this a great sounding album. However, it is Gregg’s choice of songs and his own heartfelt vocals that make this record special and add that extra poignancy.
Gregg's only original composition as a co-writer, "My Only True Friend", crystallizes his love of a life continuously road bound coupled with the realization that the road is coming to an end. Few blues-rock ballads, if any, beat this ghostly song. The guitar work packs it home.
Gregg Allman was drawn to the blues his entire life because he felt it drawing all around him. And that's why his interpretation of Willie Dixon's "I Love the Life I Live" competes with Muddy Waters or of any bluesman. He certainly vies with Lowell George's classic, "Willin'", and he somehow defines the Grateful Dead's "Black Muddy River". That last one's a real rust dripper. It's in these two songs in which Gregg's soul triumphs over adversity. He knew they were meant for him.
Maybe Gregg's most interesting characteristic was that the blues didn't inflect everything he thought about music. He had that other musical personality that was beholden to both soul music and the singer-songwriter movement. The old Percy Sledge tune, "Out of Left Field", has those soulful horns turn up as if they came right out of Stax Records along with Gregg's soulful vocals.
Bob Dylan's great "Going , Going, Gone" is the most unusual song for Gregg to tackle. It's so despairing in its decision-making of either living or dying. But his voice, propelled by Greg Leisz's pedal steel guitar, make this song wholly convincing. However, it's on "Song for Adam" that provides this album's most haunting moment. Gregg has always had a way with a Jackson Browne tune and this is arguably more gripping than "These Days" from his 1973's "Laid Back". He chokes up towards the end of the song as if the gravity of the moment overtakes him and he can't finish it. It makes sense because the track has so much of him and Duane in it. It's a winning detail of Don Was's production in leaving it as is; rendering it more poignant.
Literally, right until the end of his life, Gregg guided this music to his satisfaction. He mastered every musical form that he touched and his voice assures him a certain immortality. "Southern Blood" is an open letter - the audio equivalent to "My Cross to Bear".