Gregg Allman’s entire 50-year career was built on grit. Whether he was aching musically or physically, he always sang and played through the pain he felt. The result yielded a musical fighter, one whose distinctive vocal roar soldiered on despite everything from band member losses, to breakups, to addictions, to health scares. At the same time, the singer always flirted with the notion of “the end,” going all the way back to “Dreams” in 1969. Finality, of course, was a core theme of the Allman Brothers Band even though the band didn’t officially end it all until 2014. And then, tragically, Allman’s time came on May 27, 2017, at age 69. Fortunately, we have his eighth solo album to revel in and honor this legend. A collection of covers and down-home favorites, Southern Blood is not the work of a sick man fighting for every note. Rather it’s a peaceful album — one where Allman sings with a new kind of tenderness inspired by the icons he strives to emulate.
While some tracks, like the bookend opener and closer “My Only True Friend” and “Song for Adam” are somber in their approach; others are simply sweet. “Once I Was,” for example, is a tribute to a longtime influence and folk troubadour Tim Buckley. Here, the typically grizzled Allman turns his drawl into a croon, leaving his rasp behind for good. The result is nothing but powerful. Having recently read Alan Light's tell-all, oral history of the ABB “One Way Out” (chockfull of Allman's ailments and demons), it's refreshing to hear this icon sound fresh and energized. Clarity is the defining element of this album as Allman eases back and simply enjoys himself. The blues standard “I Love the Life I Live” is a swamp boogie, while a take on Johnny Jenkins’ “Blind Bats and Swamp Rats,” and “Love Like Kerosene” are down-home good musical eating. “Willin’” is a wistful take on the Little Feat classic but a strong one nonetheless.
Time will tell if more music from the Allman vaults (solo or ABB) will reach the surface. If Southern Blood proves to be Gregg Allman's musical farewell, he's headed to the angels with ease as he leaves behind something truly heartfelt and memorable for those who love him (fans included). It's evident after listening to this work, he has put every drop of his southern blood into making this a success. My hope is it will be.
Reprint permissions courtesy of Shawn Perry (VintageRock.com)