Brothers And Sisters
The Allman Brothers Band
Released: August 1973
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 56
Certified Gold: 8/21/73
The Allman Brothers Band's magic has always existed mainly on the concert stage, where it can engage its audience casually and cumulatively. The band's image, simply reflected on the double-fold cover of the new album, is of an earnest, hard-working, lovingly interacting community. It is further enhanced through their concentration in performance on extended collective instrumental elaborations, and while I usually have a low tolerance for that type of thing, every time I've seen the Brothers I've been completely transfixed. They simply do things no one else can.
The live magic, which owes so much to their ability to generate a bilateral sense of community, is almost impossible to synthesize in the studio. Considering the problem, they have been surprisingly successful in recording. Each album has its dull stretches (particularly the live double album, made during a relatively uninspired performance), but each has moments when the magic is paralleled if not duplicated. Oddly enough, these occur when the band is working in the straight song form it finds so constricting onstage. Gregg Allman's plaintive ballads on Idlewild South, "Midnight Rider" and "Please Call Home," are the most fully realized songs on any of the five Allman Brothers albums, although Gregg's "Melissa," "Ain't My Cross to Bear" and "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," and Richard (nee Dickie) Betts' "Revival" all stick in the mind immediately, both as pop songs and as distinctly Allman Brothers performances.
As its popularity increased, the band became more interested in making a definitive studio album. Working in the pop song form wasn't the answer, but the predominantly instrumental music that formed the basis of their live performance still hadn't come to life in the studio. At the crucial moment, during the early sessions for Eat A Peach, Richard Betts came up with what amounted to a revelatory new approach with "Blue Sky."
"Blue Sky" had no blues flavoring; if anything, it had a country tinge. So much of the band's freelance instrumental work relied on blues changes that "Blue Sky" at first listening seemed to be more in the song category, especially with Bett's dead serious, urgent singing in the forefront. But, without changing cadence or dramatic tone, the vocal section is transformed into an ensemble instrumental piece flowing powerfully around Bett's plaintive electric guitar work. As recorded, the piece had a dramatic and thoroughly unified quality to it, and at the same time, it seemed a perfect vehicle for the unique Allman Brothers live presentation. The only track at all similar to "Blue Sky" was Bett's "... Elizabeth Reed," but that number was completely instrumental and less spiritedly recorded. A more likely model can be found on Layla, the lone studio effort on the Allmans' cousin band, the Anglo-Southern Derek and the Dominos. Clapton's "Anyday" and "Keep On Growing," though more light-hearted than "Blue Sky," had similar vocal-building-to-instrumental structures, practically unprecedented at the time, but perfectly suited both to Clapton's established role as virtuoso and to his expanded role as songwriter-singer. At the time of "Blue Sky," Betts was in a similar situation. The subsequent death of Duane Allman made the hybrid development of Bett's new hybrid-form even more significant than it had initially appeared.
A warm and casual neo-country blues called "Pony Boy," with Betts doing the vocal and dobro over minimal backing, comments on and thematically completes Bett's "Ramblin' Man"-"Jessica" progression. The few seconds of hambone at the end of the song let the listener get closer to the band than ever before. This warming and lightening may prove in the long run to be as important a step as the band's musical change in direction.
The fourth Betts contribution, "Southbound," is a more conventionally Allman Brothers styled number (not that "Ramblin' Man" or "Jessica" sound like anybody else), with Gregg taking the vocal. It's extremely well-played, but it doesn't flower like Bett's other three numbers. Gregg's two tunes, "Wasted Words" and "Come and Go Blues," show a conscious move away from the deep melancholy that usually grips him as a writer and singer, which is probably a good sign for him personally, but neither track approaches Gregg's best recorded work. The remaining number, a non-original blues called "Jelly Jelly," is, like most of the other conventional blues the Allmans have recorded, a lot less successful than the bulk of their own more liberated stuff. The piano work of new member Chuck Leavell is as hackneyed here as it is inventive on "Jessica," and nobody else sounds particularly involved.
Brothers and Sisters is no masterpiece, but the new band has shown that it can carry on the work of the old, and add the appropriate new twists when necessary. They've finally discovered a form that feels as natural in the studio as it does in front of their people. It's heartening to see a group of this commercial and critical stature still working so hard at getting even better. But I guess that's what you'd expect from the Allman Brothers Band.
- Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 9/23/73.
A fine blues/rock set from this fine band, featuring top lead vocals from Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts, and the excellent instrumental fusion for which they are particularly well known. Especially impressive is Betts' slide and lead guitar work, Allman's organ playing, and the tight rhythm section. In the past two years the group has lost two members to motorcycle accidents (brilliant guitarist Duanne Allman and bassist Berry Oakley), yet they continue to turn out top product and this is a tribute to their skills. The overly long blues jams found on many of their LP's are missing here, and the shorter cuts enhance the set. Best cuts: "Ramblin' Man," "Jessica," "Poor Boy."
- Billboard, 1973.
Never, even in the face of adversity, do the Allman Brothers quit making strong, hard-driving rock/blues albums. This particular LP features the last tracks to be recorded with the band's late bassist Berry Oakley; naturally the record is dedicated to his memory, and though new bass guitarist Lamar Williams plays on the majority of the tracks, the spirits of Duane and Berry still dominate the record. Let's face it, the Allman Brothers play as if their lives depend on it; the spirit of their music lies in its urgency. Lately, drummer Butch Trucks was in a car accident. By some miracle he was not severely hurt and managed to get back to work in just a few weeks' time, but the question is: how much longer will this go on?
One highlight of the album is an incredibly mellow instrumental called "Jessica." Unlike most of the Allmans' music, it seems to swing more than it rocks, rolls, or trucks. The jazzy sound is not only effective, it's aesthetically beautiful. Chuck Leavell's piano work is much on a par with Nicky Hopkins' work for the Rolling Stones. It moves, it boogies, it carries the piece along with incredible style and is met halfway by Dickie Betts' clean, sweeping guitar lead.
"Pony Boy," a more traditional down-home blues number, features Dickie on lead vocals and dobro, his vocals adding a little extra funkiness. When Gregg Allman sings lead the sound is just a touch coarser. Gregg, that blond-haired beauty, is more of a soul singer than a country singer. For example, take a listen to "Wasted Words," side one's opener. This time Dickie moves over to slide guitar where he complements the rock/soul sound and the boogie beat perfectly.
This is another in the continuing line of quality products from The Allman Brothers Band. Long may they live... please.
-Janis Schacht, Circus, 11/73.
Simplicity can be a virtue -- the nice thing about the Allmans is that when they put two five-year-olds on the cover we know it's not some "decadent" joke. Gregg Allman is a predictable singer who never has an impenetrable lyric to work with anyway, and the jams do roll on, but at their best -- "Ramblin' Man," a miraculous revitalization of rock's weariest conceit -- they just may be the best, and on this album Dickey Bett's melodious spirituality provides unity and renewal. A-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Brothers and Sisters was the album in rehearsal when tragedy struck. Like Duane Allman and the 1972 Eat a Peach album, bassist Berry Oakley had recorded only a couple of tracks for Brothers and Sisters before he died -- the album carries a dedication.
Treble boost seems to have been applied at some stage which brings out the cutting edge in lead guitar and vocals but makes cymbals and percussion sizzle. Improved separation exposes some dodgy patches of singing; lead vocals are compartmentalized, while other tracks now sound boxy.
Most important tracks are "Ramblin' Man" and "Jessica" primarily for influence in establishing Southern country rock.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
Released in 1973, this recording contains Dickie Bett's "Ramblin' Man" and the then-popular instrumental "Jessica." While Gregg's vocals remain the high point, it's obvious that the band's fire had gone out several years before. The sound of the initial CD release is, at best, adequate, like that of a clean LP. D
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
In spite of the inclusion of Dickey Bett's "Ramblin' Man" (#2) and "Jessica," Brothers and Sisters is a noticeable comedown from the previous four albums. Muddy production doesn't help matters either. * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
The Allmans' first post-Duane album, Brothers and Sisters includes the band's biggest hits -- "Ramblin' Man," "Jessica" and "Southbound." * * * *
- Alan Paul, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
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