Last week, the musical world witnessed the extraordinary live debut of The Allman Betts Band, the legendary-in-the-making collaborative project between Devon Allman (son of the late great Gregg) and Duane Betts (son of the still rocking Dickey). The duo’s new rock outfit also includes Barry Oakley Jr., son of the late Allman Brothers’ bassist, along with keyboardist John Ginty, drummers John Lum and R. Scott Bryan, and slide guitarist John Statchela. Earlier this year, The Allman Betts Band recorded their debut album, Down To The River, and then soon afterward announced plans to embark on a massive national tour, fittingly called the “Down To The River Tour." Last week this mega tour kicked off with a terrific, show-stopping start at NYC's Brooklyn Bowl.
While the band’s name certainly implies a bit of tribute responsibility, given their new album but also the respective songbooks of solo material from Devon Allman and the others, The Allman Betts band already have a full list of their original material. The Brooklyn Bowl, and the tour, properly opened up in this original style, with a campy, soulful tune called “All Night.” “Taking Time,” a Duane original, similarly let the guitars take the full ride, with an easier groove for a while but then getting truly rocking for a huge ending. An original even took the spot of the first encore of the night in “Good Ol’ Days.”
The impressive songwriting of the band being noted, there were, of course, a few choice Allmans classics in the mix, along with some other even more exciting covers. Perhaps most paramount, pretty much all of the songs showed the continued back and forth guitar mightiness of Duane Betts, John Statchela, and Devon. “Blue Sky” was the first place all three wrenched out some of their grittiest solos. Then two more big-time ABB staples, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” and “Dreams” were treated in full by the group, with all seven members laying into the songs to be long, highly improvisational versions. “Reed,” which came in the first set, ended up in its last minutes on a tremendous, exciting organ solo from John Ginty. In a couple of moments like this one, he stepped forth and showed he was as ferocious a player as the others. “Dreams,” to no surprise, let the drummers light up the night on their own for a spell.
As a whole unit, The Allman Betts Band makes for a sum that is even greater than its impressive parts, and the result is a show that is moving and full of color and emotion. But, it's also capable of the kind of rawness and electricity that the fathers of the group's founding members’ have always commanded. Barry Oakley Jr. is a powerful bass player and was present in the most heated and rocking moments as all three guitar players. On the “Left My Heart In Memphis,” a song from Devon’s days with Royal Southern Brotherhood, Oakley and the two-person drum section held down a very cool, hypnotic groove, and together with the melodies made this one a gorgeous folk-rock tune with an outlaw kind of sound.
With some exceptional tunes thrown in by Devon on acoustic, the Allman Betts Band’s debut seemed a full range of what they have to offer musically, and it’s a wide range. At one point, the band had invited up guest singer Jessica Lynne for a very solid version of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” and that might’ve been the most intriguing song choice for this Americana jam outfit, had it not been for the night’s second encore. The last song of the night was a sendoff with The Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street,” and a darn fine one at that.
The Allman Betts continue with their ambitious tour this week, playing in Reading, PA at Berks Jazz Fest. Then, this week will see them perform in Norfolk, VA, Homer NY, Newton NJ, and Beverly, MA. For info on the whole tour and more, visit the band’s site at http://allmanbettsband.com/