Gregg Allman has been many things in his life: rogue, rambler, junkie, punchline, romantic, and Southern Man, just to name a few. Coming up with the tags is easy; living the actual life is hard. Allman, formerly of the Allman Brothers Band, of course, comes from a proud Southern rock tradition built on pushing songs to their limits by weaving through blues and jazz improve.
Gregg Allman Live: Back To Macon, GA, recorded at the Grand Opera House on January 14, 2014, demonstrates that Allman an still contribute more to the blues, even more than four decades after the youthful fire that sparked the Allman Brothers’ Live At The Fillmore East. This two-disc collection simmers, boiling songs to a reduction that’s intense without the history or histrionics.
Expected songs like “Whipping Post,” “I’m No Angel,” “One Way Out,” and “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” are all here, and in fine live form. In terms of covers, “These Days”’ dusty, prayerful reading suggests time has expanded Allman’s inhabiting and understanding of Jackson Browne’s contemplative ballad. And Warren Haynes’ “Before the Bullets” slithers and chugs, as Allman delights in the danger of the moment; the piano ripples single notes and chords stack underneath adding dimension.
By the time side one closes with a slow, slow witness to “I’ve Found A Love,” Allman’s ragged voice is pure witness to what he’s sought and realized. No swagger or push, he just drenches the melody with the exhausted triumph of having lived and knowing what he’s found is worth.
Later, “Midnight Rider” conjures a broad field of tension. A few finger-picked acoustic guitar notes circle and drop into a slinky groove, as a progression of Fender Rhodes lines circles, and a crisp drum flam strikes. The four-part harmonies create a net of Southern dignity, while the keyboard rambles through the arrangement.
Played to death “Rider” is a Southern rock/modern country cliché. But the horns bits, especially the off-kilter trumpet pieces, and Allman’s own vamping on the outro bring a haunted blood and guts ambience to it. In changing the dynamic, Allman creates something beyond a retread of the hits.
To return to the repertoire without Xeroxing is enough of a triumph. To create something authentic this far into life is even more of a victory. So in this case, Gregg Allman Live: Back To Macon, GA more then delivers.