Album Review – Gregg Allman’s “Southern Blood”

The Allman Brothers weren’t just an American band, they were an American musical institution. They were one of those bands where if you somehow erased their legacy from the history books, the entire makeup of music would be completely different than it is today, and in gravely adverse ways. And not just in Southern rock, but in blues, jam band music, country, and rock & roll. From Southern rebels in the 70’s in their football jerseys and cutoffs, to shit kickers, bikers, heavy metal riff hounds and even jazz cats, the Allman Brothers abided and influenced like few others. There isn’t a musician out there worth their salt that won’t list the Allmans as at least a secondary influence.

That’s why when The Allman Brothers Band announced its official retirement, it wasn’t such a shock to the system. The band has been such a proving ground and farm system, and spawned so many other bands and artists over the years, the music was still out there and in so many different incarnations and side projects that it would be impossible for the amps to stop carrying the echo of their indelible Southern harmonies.

The Allman Brothers Band was like its own genre. Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley, and later to a new generation with Butch Trucks, Warren Haynes, and Gov’t Mule, everywhere you turned in music, there was someone happening that you could draw a direct line back to The Allman Brothers from. And after the tragic passing of his brother Duane, Gregg Allaman was the patriarch of it all. As long as Gregg Allman was still alive, the Allman Brothers Band could be regenerated. Until he was gone.

Gregg Allman knew his time was finite. And though we had our suspicions, Gregg was too proud to admit it, and too humble to want to be doted on. So when he passed, it wasn’t entirely a surprise, but it was no less of a shock to the system. And like other recently-passed music legends of late such as David Bowie and Glen Campbell, Gregg Allman had the time to ponder his own passing, and put that ponderance upon his own mortality into his music, and say goodbye why he still had the capacity.

I don’t know if Gregg Allman’s final album Southern Blood will go on to birth any iconic songs like his efforts with the Allman Brothers did, or even some of his solo stuff like “I’m No Angel” and the second coming of “Midnight Rider.” If nothing else, we get a really great Gregg Allman version of Little Feat’s “Willin”. But nonetheless, Southern Blood makes for just about the perfect epitaph for a legendary man of music. Executed with incredibly-rich tones and compositions, and capturing Gregg’s voice without a single hint of weakness or pain aside from when those emotions that are meant to come through the lyrics, Gregg Allman takes his final bow not with a whimper, but with a resounding exhale.

Lets face it, many posthumous albums are met with favorable reception because what’s the point of being critical to someone who is no longer around? And the pain of the loss also makes the moments of a posthumous effort that much more poignant, especially for an iconic voice, allowing little imperfections or poor decisions to be overlooked. Southern Blood is no masterpiece, and aside from the opening song co-written by Allman, it’s material we’ve heard before. But the effort and love that went into this album recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals with no expense spared—including bringing in horns, secondary players, and backup singers—results in a richly-textured effort worthy enough to be called the final work from someone with the weight behind their name as heavy as Gregg Allman.

His take on The Grateful Dead’s “Black Muddy River,” and Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone” might be better than the originals. Dylan and the Dead weren’t especially known for doing their absolute best in the studio. Gregg Allman and The Allman Brothers Band were. Actually, before Southern Blood came about, Gregg was supposed to record an album of all original material. But amid his declining health, an album of mostly cover songs deeply adored by Gregg was decided upon. Along with his backing band including guitarist Scott Sharrard, Southern Blood also sees appearances by steel guitar player Greg Leisz, Buddy Miller, The McCrary Sisters, and Jackson Browne, who is also the composer of the final track, “Song For Adam.” The album was produced by Don Was.

But it’s the one original from the album, the beginning song “My Only True Friend,” that really takes Southern Blood from truly good, to terribly heartbreaking. Whether about the road as the song seems to say, or about Gregg Allman’s passing from this Earth and leaving behind a legacy of music, it speaks deeply to the sorrow felt by every Gregg Allman fan, however dedicated or fleeting, and is just about the perfect way to say a final goodbye.

Gregg Allman’s legacy was well secured before even a note was sung or played on Southern Blood. He didn’t owe us anything more. But like he did for half a century, Gregg Allman delivered, and not just for himself, but for one final hurrah of The Allman Brothers legacy that now has a life of its own, beyond Gregg and Duane, influencing artists, and entertaining fans for many more half centuries to come.

1 3/4 Guns Up (7.5/10)

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