Thursday, April 3, 2008

Peak: Fever in the funk house, Pt. 1 - Duane Allman Anthology

Or: How I fill up 2 GB

With nothing else to blog about (I mean, it's not like there's a presidential election going on or a power struggle in local government to write about), I've decided that a proper mismanagement of time would be to go through my iPod and elaborate on each album that I currently have loaded. Now, since my iPod is small (2 GB), this won't be all that difficult; right now, I've got enough material for about 30-some posts. I'm going to go in alphabetical order by album title, updating every few days or whenever I take the notion.

First up:

Album title: An Anthology
Artist: Duane Allman
Released: 1972
Track listing:
1. B.B King Medley
2. Hey Jude
3. The Road of Love
4. Goin’ Down Slow
5. The Weight
6. Games People Play
7. Shake for Me
8. Loan Me a Dime
9. Rollin’ Stone
10. Livin’ on the Open Road
11. Down Along the Cove
12. Please Be With Me
13. Mean Old World
14. Layla
15. Statesboro Blues
16. Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’
17. Stand Back
18. Dreams
19. Little Martha review:
Duane Allman's greatness was apparent on his recordings with the Allman Brothers, yet there was another side to the superb guitarist. For many years, he was a highly respected session musician, playing on cuts by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Boz Scaggs, Delaney & Bonnie, and Clarence Carter, among others. By including those session cuts, as well as a sampling of his brief sojourn in Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominoes and a few rare solo tracks, along with a number of representative Allman Brothers songs, the double-album Anthology winds up drawing a complete portrait of Allman. He may have recorded plenty of other material worth hearing, but this has the bare essentials for an excellent introduction and retrospective.

The greatest slide guitarist of all time? Probably, and these 19 tracks give you a pretty good idea of what Duane Allman was capable of in the two years he was a “star.” There’s a handful of Allman Bros. tracks on here, including the always-fun “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” and “Stand Back,” as well as the sublime “Dreams.” And “Layla” is thrown in for good measure, too, because what would a Duane Allman collection be without “Layla” (or at least one Derek and the Dominoes track)?

But the most interesting stuff on Anthology comes from the session work Allman did while he was on contract at Fame Studios. The Fame contract grew out of his playing with Hour Glass, an early incarnation of the Allman Bros. Band; Hour Glass was not a successful studio act, but the group had recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., giving Allman’s playing some exposure, particularly on the B.B. King medley that opens Anthology.

The contract with Fame resulted in Allman playing with the likes of Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and King Curtis, and the rewards of those collaborations are all over Anthology. “Hey Jude” is a Pickett concoction, and it pretty much sounds like what you would expect if Wilson Pickett sang “Hey Jude.” The instrumental “Games People Play” is a melodic King Curtis track that has Allman trading lead lines with a saxophonist, while “Shake for Me” is a groovy John Hammond Jr. take on a Willie Dixon tune that features some frenetic drumming.

Still, the highlight of the Anthology set is Aretha Franklin’s inspired rendition of “The Weight.” Already established in the pantheon of great songs, Aretha did to “The Weight” what she did to virtually every song she touched: she turned it to gold. Because no matter how much The Band tried to be soulsters, they could never get to the level of Motown-ness Aretha brought to “The Weight.” As is the case with every great cover, Aretha Franklin made “The Weight” her own.

Overall, Anthology is a worthwhile collection on a number of levels. There are a handful of blues workouts, some soul with integrity, and a nice sampling of Allman Bros. tracks, which are always welcome. Listen to the set, and you come away with a pretty good idea of Duane Allman's legacy, which is well-represented on Anthology.

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