Gregg Allman

Laid Back (Capricorn 73, Polygram '90) Rating: A
Gregg Allman's first solo album, by far his best, sounded very little like the Allman Brothers Band, and as such it was a perfect example of an individual stepping out from within a band concept to release a more personal, largely superb solo project. Much of the credit for this album's success is due to co-producer Johnny Sandlin, who largely shaped the album's sound, which is soulful, evocative, and melancholic for the most part. The rough edges of Gregg's voice are smoothed over somewhat, but it retains its weathered charm, and gospel backing choirs, horns, and lush strings are featured prominently. Most of these songs are keyboard or piano-driven rather than being guitar-based, with more elaborate arrangements than can be found on any Allman Brothers Band album. "Midnight Rider," one of two songs revisited from The Allman Brothers Band, is more haunting and mysterious than the original; I'm not sure it's better, but both are great and they're very different from one another. "Please Call Home," the other reworking, has a much bigger sound, with a gospel backing choir, luxuriant strings, and blaring horns. In this case I definitely prefer the original version, but again this one is different enough to warrant its inclusion, and it's a fine, completely transformed song in its own right. Sandwiched between these two tracks is "Queen Of Hearts," a terrific love song to second wife Janice and one of two Gregg originals here. This epic 6+-minute track starts as a standard piano ballad (though I like the way the guitar cries out as well) but eventually gets jazzier, with the emphasis on keyboards (Chuck Leavell is every bit the standout on this album as he was on Brothers and Sisters) and horns. The ballad and jazzy parts alternate again, and David "Fathead" Newman and Leavell deliver superb sax and keyboard solos, respectively. Also first-rate is a cover of Rufus Thomas' "Don't Mess Up A Good Thing," though its fun, jaunty spirit seems out of place with the rest of the album. Arguably the album's centerpiece song is what I consider to be the definitive reading of Jackson Browne's pretty, contemplative "These Days," while "Multi-Colored Lady," another evocative piano and strings-led ballad with another excellent lyric, is among the best songs that Gregg ever wrote. "All My Friends," yet another mellow number, isn't as memorable but it is quite pretty and perfectly pleasant, and a version of the traditional "Will The Circle Will Be Unbroken" provides a grand finale. This song obviously held a special meaning for Gregg, as the Allman Brothers Band had previously incorporated it into the end of "Mountain Jam" on Eat A Peach, plus they played it at brother Duane's funeral. Anyway, this version is flat-out fantastic, with churchy piano and a heavenly gospel choir providing the foundation for a joyous sing along that's also somewhat out of place with the rest of the album but is thoroughly enjoyable just the same. Anyway, on the whole Laid Back is most aptly titled, as it is indeed a terrific "chill out" album that, though it certainly lacks the virtuosity and excitement of his best band work, is still a minor classic of its type that's arguably as good as any (post-Duane) Allman Brothers Band studio album.

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