The Allman Brothers Band
Released: March 1979
Chart Peak: #9
Weeks Charted: 24
Certified Platinum: 3/5/79
Gregg Allman may not look like Lazarus, but he sure acts like him. Allman's astonishing resurrection here seems less an act of heroism on his part than a miracle on someone else's. After all, in the space of a few years, this artist went from being an exceptional white blues singer and the leader of one of the best American rock bands to being a laughingstock, a pathetic churl apparently unaware of the humiliation he suffered at the hands of Hollywood and the glitzy Cher. The proposed Allman Brothers Band reunion promised to be a ghoulish joke, the musical equivalent of Night of the Living Dead.
Yet Enlightened Rogues, the product of that reunion, takes its place not beside the empty, last-gasp Win, Lose or Draw, or even the slick and calculated Brothers and Sisters, but ranks with the group's greatest albums, The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild South. Of course, the current twin-guitar sound falls short of the rich contrast between Duane Allman's fat, explosive tone and Dickey Betts' sweet, incisive harmony work on the earlier LPs, and Gregg Allman's once terrifying singing has been humbled by tragedy. But whatever Enlightened Rogues lacks in virtuosity, it makes up for in emotional intensity.
Allman wrote only one song on Enlightened Rouges: "It Just Ain't Easy." He didn't have to write another. The references to his life in Los Angeles, his private and public hell, are right up front. The forceful image of a sleepwalker trapped in a recurrent dream has mythical romance from Sisyphus to Bob Dylan's "Memphis Blues Again," but Gregg Allman amplifies his terror through the knowledge of why he stays: "'Cause midnight's calling." Allman's warning at song's end, sung over and over as the languid guitar lines spin out the punctuation, rings with the power of someone who's come to terms with his own disgrace: "When you leave there you got your hat down on your face/Well, well."
Most of the numbers were written or cowritten by Betts, who now has nominal control of the band since the two new members, bassist David Goldfies and guitarist Dan Toler, were drafted from his post-Allman Brothers group, Great Southern. But Dickey Betts can't match Gregg Allman as a vocalist, and "Sail Away," a tune that sounds like it could have been on either of the last two albums, suffers as a result. "Crazy Love," an uptempo rocker built around vigorous slide-guitar solos, Betts' singing is better, probably because Bonnie Bramlett covers him so well with strong backup vocals. The Betts compositions on which Allman sings lead, "Blind Love" (a revised "Statesboro Blues") and the modified boogie, "Can't Take It with You," are especially good. Allman's tough, raspy vocal and the searing guitar accents at the climax of the latter provide one of the LP's high points.
If there's a miracle here, it's worked by the band's much-improved percussion section. Drummers Jaimoe Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks were always the bedrock of the Allman's relentless swing, and these to propel Enlightened Rogues with a rare combination of strength and subtlety. The delicate rhythmic accents in "Try It One More Time" are phenomenal as Johanson and Trucks wield magic on their cross-rhythms during their brief break.
"Pegasus," the long Betts instrumental, compares favorably with his previous efforts in this direction, "The Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and "Blue Sky." The group sweeps effortlessly through the tune's eight-part evolution. After the theme and first guitar solo, Allman displays the finest organ playing of his career. At the end of his solo, the organ fills out the progression with a warm resolution that recalls Steve Winwood's magnificent music on Traffic's John Barleycorn Must Die, Betts enters for his solo, and the drummers move freely into orbit until the guitars and organ state the bridge in unison before the theme is again evoked, releasing the tension. Then the coda extends in enveloping filigrees, recapitulating the melodic ideas in a jazz-influenced approach reminiscent of the days when Duane Allman and Dickey Betts would stretch out an ending far beyond its possibilities, searching for that last ringing resolution, that perfect final note.
- John Swenson, Rolling Stone, 5/31/79.
One of the most significant rock bands of the late 6Os and 70s, this album marks the reunion of Gregg AlIman, Dickey Betts, "Jaimoe" Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks with the additions of Dan Toler and David Goldflies from Betts' Great Southern band. The excitement of Betts' guitar work fused with AIlman's identifiable keyboards creates a sound that reflects that old Allman Brothers magic along with the explorations of other avenues. AIlman's bluesy "It Just Ain't Bad" is a highlight with many others provided by Betts and the duo's vocals. Special guests include percussionist Joe Layla, Jim Essery standing out on harmonica, and backing vocalists Bonnie Bramlett and Mimi Hart. Tom Dowd's production is again nothing short of flawless. A welcomed return. Best cuts: "It Just Ain't Easy," "Crazy Love," "Pegasus" (a seven and a half minute instrumental), "Can't Take It With You."
- Billboard, 1979.
The heartening sense of overall conviction here doesn't extend to many specifics, with the surprising exception of Gregg's rough yet detailed vocals. But Ronnie Van Zant himself couldn't breathe life into these songs, most of which Dickey Betts was saving up for the third Great Southern album, now never to be heard, which is one good thing. C+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
After six years of spotty albums, The Allmans made a strong comeback with this Tom Dowd-produced effort. Gregg Allman is in fine voice, and the band kicks up some sparks throughout. Some of the material is a little weak, but "Crazy Love," a duet by Bonnie Bramlett and Dickie Betts, is a highlight. * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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