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Gregg Allman’s Enduring Blues

Low Country Blues is part of Gregg Allman’s life’s work. The well-earned, glowing press the album has been receiving calls attention to the length that’s passed since Allman’s last solo outing (14 years), the health scare the Allman Brothers Band leader endured (a 2010 liver transplant) and the role of star producer T Bone Burnett.

Burnett has had a powerful impact on a number of artists, but what’s striking here is how he’s kept Allman heading down a well-trod road, adding subtle tweaks to add color without getting all splashy. Yes, Burnett has brought his own core of sidemen (plus old Allman buddy Dr. John on keyboards), but connections to past triumphs run through the collection.

The first Allman Brothers band album from 1969 featured a Muddy Waters cover. Low Country Blues offers Allman’s take on some more Muddy Waters music. The gravel-voiced singer has always been suited to brooding, late-night R&B and here he and his B3 bring a drink-up-and-go-home vibe to selections from the B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland songbooks, just as the Allman Brothers did to T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday.”

Speaking of King, Robert Gordon’s liner notes include a wonderful story about Gregg and his 11-year-old big brother, Duane, sneaking into a segregated B.B. show in 1959 that concludes with Duane telling Gregg: “We gotta get into some of this.”

Of course, they did. Duane, for my money as great a guitarist as has ever come along, formed the Allman Brothers Band and made Gregg lead vocalist. After Duane’s tragic death in a 1971 motorcycle accident (just months after their modal-blues touchstone At Fillmore brought the band widespread acclaim), the group surged and faltered for a time, but is now recognized as one of the great performance outfits in the land.

The story of Gregg Allman and the blues is long and tangled, and perhaps it felt like a closed book. It’s good to have another chapter – and a great one at that.

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