The Allman Betts Band - Down to the River - (8.5/10)
Published on July 11, 2019
In this day and age, southern rock may seem like an antiquated term, limited to people randomly shouting “Freebird!” or “Whipping Post!” at any given concert just for a laugh. Fortunately, there are those of us who still remember the glory days of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers. We remember those days with great fondness for the music and great sorrow for the musicians we lost in those times. Thankfully, the next generation has taken up the torch to honor the legacies of those who came before them and put their own spin on the style. Greg and Duane may not be with us any longer but their legacies live on through their children. Out of the ashes comes a new band featuring Devon Allman, Duane Betts, Berry Duane Oakley, and John Ginty called The Allman Betts Band. Down to the River is their debut album and it definitely re-lights the eternal flame of southern rock and honors the legacies of their forefathers.
The songs on this album do not have quite the same flair and luster as the classic and timeless songs of The Allman Brothers Band. Rather, these songs focus on calmer, mid-tempo rhythms with infectious guitar melodies backed by some pretty great organ lines. Occasionally, the boys break out and really showcase their chops with excellent solos that resemble the flying southern twang solos of their forefathers. This is most evident on “Good Ol’ Days” and the spectacular “Melodies are Memories,” both of which feature excellent displays of fretwork. The latter is unquestionably the best track on the album because of the guitar solos and the organ lines that go with them. The major solo achieves that perfect balance between technical skill and infectious melody and it would undoubtedly make Duane and Dickey proud. Too many solos rely purely on speed and technicality but Devon and Duane delight the listener with beautifully crafted southern melodies and it works incredibly well. Older fans who remember The Allman Brothers well will absolutely adore “Autumn Breeze” as it is a true epic of southern rock with guitar parts that soar and solos that sound straight out of the classic era of The Allman Brothers. Yes, it is only eight minutes long but it invokes the spirit of a classic like “Jessica” and it is exquisite.
The rhythm section here is incredibly solid at holding down the beat while the guitars do their thing they really help the band cook right along. Berry Duane Oakley’s bass is not always audible but when you can hear it, he is definitely doing some cool things along with the steady beat. As far as drums go, John Lum handles those beautifully with plenty of interesting fills to go along with the rocking beats and killer tone. It is a tone that harkens back to the old days when rock and roll was about jamming and having a grand old time doing it. It may not be anything fancy but his rhythm and tempo fit the band’s sound perfectly. In the grand tradition of old school jam bands, The Allman Betts Band has a percussionist as well as a drummer. R Scott Bryan’s contributions may be less noticeable on this album, the tambourine on “Melodies are Memories” adds an extra dimension to the song despite being fairly subtle. Mostly, he just adds some extra oomph to the drums, which never hurts. Naturally, there is also a keyboard player because what would southern rock be without good old-fashioned keyboards and organ? As it happens, the boys recruited a veteran in John Ginty for the job and he does it masterfully. See, Ginty may not be a well-known name to most people but he guested with The Allman Brothers, Santana, Bob Wier (of Grateful Dead fame) and Ratdog, Gov’t Mule, et al. He was also a founding member of Robert Randolph’s Family Band so his resume speaks for itself. Most of the time, Ginty’s keyboard lines add great background depth but when he shines, it sounds so pretty and makes a song that much better.
Vocals are a bit of a tricky business on this album because while Devon is the primary vocalist, you can tell that the others handle vocal duties on certain songs. That being said, the vocals on this album as a whole are incredibly solid and fit the band’s sound extremely well. Devon’s voice is in somewhat of a low register and very Southern, which is perfect and there is certainly plenty of power and passion in his delivery. He can also slow it down for extra emphasis and added beauty as he does on the title track, which is a lovely ballad. Duane Betts has a pretty nice voice too and his vocals on “Shinin’” really make the track. Duane’s voice has even more of that sweet Southern drawl and his register is more in the mid-range, which provides a nice contrast with Devon’s lower voice. The vocals really drive the songs but they take frequent instrumental breaks to jam out and show off their sweet guitar skills, which is precisely how it should be with this style of music.
This album is not a game-changer but it never set out to be and that is perfectly fine. Not everything has to be Earth-shattering to be good and this album is a shining example of that tenet. It is also important to keep in mind that this is their debut album so there will surely be growth as they continue to make music together. The important thing is that this is a really solid album featuring great musicians who are proudly taking up the torch of their forefathers, continuing and even expanding upon their legacy. They are very much inspired by their forefathers but The Allman Betts Band are a new and 100% unique band and damn are they great. Honestly, it is wonderful to have brand new music in this style and these boys are absolutely approaching it the right way so kudos to them on a beautifully crafted album!