Allman Betts' "Down to the River" Review

September 28, 2019

 

Allman Betts comes from a long line of blues rock and jam rock royalty, packing a slide guitar and southern rock sound very reminiscent of the music that their large musical family brought to the public eye. Allman Betts consists of Devon Allman on guitar and vocals, Duane Betts on guitar and vocals, Berry Oakley Jr. on bass guitar, Johnny Stachela on slide guitar, John Ginty on organ, as well R Scott Bryan and John Lum on drums and percussion. This 7 piece set allows for a multi-layered and textured rock blues sound, meshing with jazz and soul elements that dive deep into their pasts in musical families.

 

The parallels with Rock and Rock Hall of Famer members the Allman Brothers Band are obvious and intentional, as Devon, Duane, and Berry are all the children of founding members of the legendary band. While all three of the sons had extensive recording careers prior to Allman Betts, they had never addressed the legacies of their fathers as honestly and directly as they have with this group, a diversion from the 90s heavy blues rock that Devon had previously employed in his band Honeytribe, and his solo project Devon Allman Band. Allman Betts was formed after the death of Gregg Allman, namesake and leader of the Allman Brothers, as Devon was dealing with the loss of both his mother and father in the past year prior to their formation, as a continuation of the legacy and music that Gregg and the rest of the extended musical family (as all of the members of all the families have considered themselves since the early years of the Allman Brothers) gave to the world. 

 

Considering their past experiences as solo artists and session musicians, this band is much more than a classic cover or tribute band but a continuation and growth on the history that had been left before them. This music is theirs to work with, theirs to re-invent, and theirs to cherish; Allman Betts is a band that is systematically aware of all of these realities. While they acknowledge where they came from, the band has made a point of expressing their own individuality and growth in their music. 

 

 

In their new album, Down to the River, they quickly call back to much of the music created before them, as the second track on the album “Shinin” utilizes the same beginning chords of the progression as the famous Allman Brothers hit “Revival”, and the intro from the fifth track “Autumn Breeze” is very reminiscent of the same intro utilized in the classic “Les Bres in A Minor” and then quickly shifts to the long, soulful slide guitar of Johnny Stachela, reminding people of the great slide work Duane Allman had utilized years ago in Mountain Jam. 

 

However, they are all extremely accomplished musicians, from the three descendants all the way to the third guitarist and rhythm section, and they lend their own flair, lyrics, and influences to the main backdrop of their familial legacy. Another thing to remember is how different they are from each other, and from their forefathers before them. While Devon visibly looks and feels like an Allman Brother, his musical influences also come heavily from the 90s rock that he had grown up with in St. Louis, such as Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, while Duane encompasses many areas of country rock like his father Dickey Betts, but also comes from a background clearly influenced by CCR, Flying Burrito Brothers, and western swing samplings seen on more of Dickey’s solo albums. Berry Oakley Jr. comes from a large family of musicians, and holds down the groove for the others to explore their songwriting in a way that’s reminiscent of many great hard rock bassists such as Duff McKagan, his father Berry, and jazzy basslines of fellow Macon native Jerry Jemmott.

 

The lyricism is completely their own and contains many layers of nuanced material, from grief, to a hopefulness about the future. They have also managed to surround themselves with many accomplished musicians: Johnny Stachela, being potentially the most accomplished guitar player of the three that the band utilizes. This ability to see talent, utilize it, and help grow the overall sound is an impressive element of Allman Betts musical mind. Due to their ability to acknowledge and understand their past, where they came from, and where they are headed, the Allman Betts Band is one that I expect to continue to grow in the jam band scene, and is a band that I will continue to follow closely to hear where the next generation of the Allman Legacy is headed. 

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