By Jeff Burger
If you’re looking for concert material from the Allman Brothers Band’s classic original lineup, your first purchase should unquestionably be one of the expanded versions of 1971’s At Fillmore East. The fantastic The Fillmore Concerts, which came out in 1992, would be an excellent choice, though if you want to really dig in, you can opt for 2014’s six-disc The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings, which delivers five complete shows.
After that, the pickings get slim—which isn’t surprising, since the original band’s peak period lasted only about two years. Still, additional material from that time has trickled out. Last year, for example, saw the release of The Final Note, which features the group’s last known recording with Duane Allman but offers disappointing audio quality because it was recorded by a kid in the audience with a handheld cassette machine.
Now comes Down in Texas ’71, which features an hour of music and has more to recommend it, despite a couple of caveats. The first is that you can find versions of every one of its songs on the well-recorded Fillmore releases. The second is that while the sound quality is decidedly superior to that on The Final Note, it’s less than pristine: there are occasional moments of distortion and dropouts and other flaws. For example, the recording of the first track starts after the music is already underway.
The audio is generally quite listenable, however, and the jazz-inflected rock guitar pyrotechnics here are just as spectacular as those on the Fillmore albums. So, if you’re hungry for more after digesting those recordings, this set is worth a look. Its program includes three of the band’s best-known originals—“Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” and “Hot ‘Lanta”—plus six of its greatest blues covers: Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “One Way Out,” James’s “Done Somebody Wrong,” T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday,” Willie Cobbs’s “You Don’t Love Me,” Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” and Muddy Waters’s “Trouble No More.”
And there’s a bonus: a 13-minute, June 1971 Houston radio interview with Duane Allman, who died in a motorcycle accident four months later, and Berry Oakley, who, incredibly, lost his life in another motorcycle crash just one year after that—and only three blocks from where Duane met his fate. As Down in Texas ’71 will remind you, those deaths, and the demise of the original Allman Brothers Band, represent an incalculably huge loss to the music world.
California Music, Add Some Music. Beach Boys fans who haven’t heard anything new from them in ages will likely be excited to learn about this project, which features the group’s Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston plus early member David Marks. Also on board are children of Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson as well as offspring of Love and Jardine.
The good news is that this crew deliver perfect harmonies that conjure up the Beach Boys’ classic sound. But there’s bad news, too: the album runs only 37 minutes, 11 of which are devoted to three versions of the title cut. Moreover, the Beach Boys songs here—especially that title cut and “Friends”—as well as a cover of the Youngbloods’ “Get Together” seem designed simply to ape the originals rather than to add anything new. They’re well performed, but you’re likely to be left wondering what the point is. The set does incorporate a couple of amiable new numbers—Johnston’s “She Believes in Love Again” and “Jenny Clover,” which Jardine cowrote—but they’re not enough to make this worth buying.
Drew Weaver, Drew Weaver Sings Country Mood Songs. On this aptly named EP, Drew Weaver mines territory similar to that explored by the late, great Gram Parsons: traditional country spiced with major echoes of the Bakersfield Sound plus some rock and pop influences. Weaver sounds a bit like Parsons, too, especially on the first track, “Stranger in My Arms,” a duet with Rosie Flores that recalls the late singer’s work with Emmylou Harris. His voice isn’t quite as compelling as Parsons’s—a high bar—but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a likable singer.
The material, meanwhile, draws on some great songwriters: in addition to the aforementioned duet—which was coauthored by Bakersfield Sound icon “Fuzzy” Owen—the six-song set embraces such 50s and 60s country standards as Hank Williams’s “Ramblin’ Man” and Merle Haggard and Red Simpson’s “You Don’t Have Very Far to Go,” as well as lesser-known but excellent numbers like the pop-flavored “Donna on My Mind,” a Billy Barton tune that the late country singer Wynn Stewart recorded in 1962.
Bob Bradshaw, The Ghost Light. “A drive-by radio, an old song I used to know,” begins this album’s first track. “Sweet songs from a top-down powder-blue Camaro, and I was taken on the airwaves to another time, another place.” These opening lines are apropos because Bob Bradshaw—a talented singer/songwriter who was born and raised in Ireland but today lives in the Boston area—seems to appreciate the ability of music to transport listeners to other eras and locales.
That’s just what most of the melodic, literate songs on this eclectic, adventurous album manage to do. Standouts include the mellow “Dream,” which references “Moon River” and “Come Fly with Me” and, to quote the lyric, will have you “floatin’ here beneath the trees…scent of huckleberry on the breeze”; and “Blue,” which features a somber violin and will take you to a more melancholy place.
Then there’s “Gone,” which sounds lyrically and vocally redolent of Randy Newman and evidences Bradshaw’s storytelling abilities. “The waitress grabs an orange to squeeze, the moon is shinin’ down on back of her knees,” he sings on that one. “She kinda looks like my ex-wife, I see her reachin’ for the knife…”
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.