Critic’s pick 291: The Allman Brothers Band, ‘Brothers and Sisters’ (40th anniversary editions)

brothers and sistersFew rock star ensembles rose from the ashes with more determination and purpose than the Allman Brothers Band did in 1973. Already reeling from the motorcycle crash that claimed the life of guitarist and de-facto band chieftain Duane Allman in fall 1971 (just as the band achieved national notoriety with its classic album The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East), the group reshuffled its ranks by making Dickey Betts the primary guitarist and enlisting a 20-year-old wunderkind on piano by the name of Chuck Leavell. The lineup cut two new tunes in 1972. One was Ramblin’ Man, the song that would come to define Betts’ new role as co-frontman with organist Gregg Allman and would be the Allmans’ signature radio hit.

But no sooner did the band find its feet than tragedy hit again, with bassist Berry Oakley dying in a motorcycle wreck three blocks from where Duane Allman perished a year earlier. Enter Lamar Williams, a bassist with a more jazz-savvy sound to complete the recording that came to be known as Brothers and Sisters.

In the last of our three-part series on summer box set releases, we examine the 30th-anniversary packaging of a remastered Brothers and Sisters. It comes in two versions – a deluxe edition packed with a disc full of outtakes from the recording sessions (including several Oakley tracks), and a four-disc “super deluxe” edition that piles on a full-length concert from September 1973 recorded at the Winterland in San Francisco.

You’ll want to go super on this one, folks. The larger set is costlier – about $65 – but the edition’s two live discs chronicle the Chuck Leavell/Lamar Williams-era Allmans as exquisitely as Fillmore East did the groundbreaking Duane Allman/Berry Oakley lineup.

The Winterland show capitalizes on the two key elements of the then-new Allmans. The first, and clearly most dominate, is Leavell. An almost incomprehensibly mature player for his age, Leavell sounds fluent in blues and boogie woogie, which turns the Betts tune Southbound into a barrelhouse shakedown. But another Betts classic, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, with Leavell on electric piano, is reinvented almost completely as a jazz piece that luxuriates in its melodic longing but delivers the dramatic goods once Betts gets fired up on guitar.

The other star, not surprisingly, is Betts, who takes to the slide (Duane Allman’s weapon of choice) with reluctant confidence as part of a clean but powerfully soulful guitar vocabulary. When he and Leavell use the gospel bliss of Amazing Grace to bridge the boogie charge of You Don’t Love Me and the dark, urgent jam of Les Brers in A Minor on the second Winterland disc, we experience a whole new level of brotherly love from the Allmans.

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