Gregg Allman: Southern Blood
by Jeff Tamarkin on September 13, 2017
In the liner notes for Southern Blood, Devon, Gregg Allman’s son, writes that his father “wanted to leave you a most poignant, soulful and deep parting gift as he left us all.” It would have been easy, one imagines, for Gregg to have rallied the troops one last time and called on the surviving members of the Allman Brothers Band to join him in that endeavor, but Southern Blood is too personal a statement. It needed to be in his name, a meditation on what producer Don Was describes in his own notes as “closing the book on the pages and text and urging those behind him to follow their hearts.”
Of its 10 tracks, only the opener, “My Only True Friend,” bears a Gregg Allman co-writing credit (with Scott Sharrard, his solo band’s guitarist and musical director). It’s a misty, mid-tempo blues number, with Gregg’s vocal delivery as naked as anything he’s ever sung. “You and I both know this river will surely flow to an end/ Keep me in your heart and keep your soul on the mend/ I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone,” he sings, and it’s not a conceit for a fan to take his words as a direct missive from an old companion.
There are many such moments on Southern Blood, but there is never a sense of sorrow or regret. “I will walk alone by the black muddy river/ and sing me a song of my own,” he repeats in the Garcia-Hunter ballad “Black Muddy River,” played acoustically in a nearly buoyant arrangement infused with all of the expressiveness Allman could muster, as he knew his own time was drawing near. And the determination to ever “be movin’” at the heart of the oft-recorded Lowell George classic “Willin’” takes on new meaning, coming from a lifelong traveler whose band’s motto was “the road goes on forever.”
Blood isn’t about the jam—although Allman plays both guitar and his beloved Hammond B-3—it’s the songs and their vital words that are at the core of this statement. Was’ production is accordingly understated, casting its light squarely on that voice and what it’s telling us. The final track, Jackson Browne’s “Song for Adam” (to which he contributes a guest harmony vocal), tells of a mate lost long ago and still missed. “I did not know him long,” Gregg sings, his mind perhaps summoning up his brother Duane, who died at the young age of 24. “It seems he stopped his singing in the middle of his song.” Now, the narrator is well aware that it’s his turn, “holding out my only candle” as it grows “shorter every hour.” As in the sendoff track, there’s a plea, a hope, that he’ll be remembered. Gregg Allman didn’t have to worry about that.
Authors: Jeff Tamarkin
Artist: Gregg Allman
Album: Southern Blood