critic’s pick 327: the allman brothers band, ‘play all night’

abb 1aA new concert compilation marking the earliest stages of The Allman Brothers Band’s storied annual performance residencies at New York’s Beacon Theatre falls somewhere between a memoir and an epitaph.

As a glance, Play All Night is a powerful representation of the band’s third major incarnation – one that teams co-founder Dickey Betts with a young Warren Haynes to form the twin guitar section that takes the Allmans from their Southern rock beginnings to a new generation of jam band fans.

The two come out swinging on Statesboro Blues and You Don’t Love Me with slide savvy gusto that salutes the spirit of the long departed Duane Allman. But the two quickly stretch out in directions of their own.

Two of Betts’ best known instrumentals, Jessica and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, define the hearty duality of his playing. Jessica is all riverboat glee, a portrait of Betts at his most jubilant (although it remains an unfinished work without the equally joyous piano rolls Chuck Leavell added to the song during the ‘70s) while Elizabeth Reed is offered here initially as a Santana-like dirge before it explodes with long, sinewy breaks by both guitarists. The 20 minute tune’s eventual collapse into a series of drum solos is Play All Night’s only weakness.

Haynes, who produced Play All Night out of concert recordings made during the 1992 Beacon run by the late, legendary Tom Dowd, asserts himself with a slide solo rampage  that triggers Hoochie Coochie Man, the Willie Dixon blues staple that was a signature stage moment for original Allmans bassist Berry Oakley.

There are loads of other highlights, as well, including the wicked bass lines Allen Woody uses to piledrive the album closing Whipping Post, the scorched vocal charge Gregg Allman lends to the then-new End of the Line and, best of all, a three-song acoustic segment highlighted by a gospel-rific Come On In My Kitchen.

So why is Play All Night also a eulogy? Well, Duane Allman and Oakley died in separate motorcycle crashes in the early’70s, Betts was ousted from the band in 2000, Woody died that same year and Haynes, along with the Allmans’ other mainstay guitarist Derek Trucks, will depart the current lineup at the end of 2014, leaving the band’s future in serious question.

But Play All Night falls between the cracks of those losses to serve as an expert remembrance of the Allmans’ earliest Beacon shows as well as an outstanding document of a band reborn.

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