in performance: the allman betts band

From left, Berry Duane Oakley, Devon Allman and Duane Betts of the Allman Betts Band.

The recorded intro to Monday evening’s very involving performance by the Allman Betts Band at Frankfort’s Grand Theatre was as telling as it was familiar. It was the classic 1972 version of “Little Martha,” a cornerstone tune of the Allman Brothers Band, the ensemble that in many ways served as a template for the younger group about to walk onstage.

But the piece refined that sense of place and purpose, as it was an unaccompanied acoustic guitar duet between Duane Allman and Dicky Betts, the uncle and father, respectively, of the two guitarists at the helm of this current troupe, Devon Allman and Duane Betts. As the live adventures of the Allman Betts Band unfolded over the next 1 ¾ hours, the inevitable lineage to the Allman Brothers Band was both embraced and built upon. The echoes of the past were often very purposeful but so was the establishment of a separate and distinct Southern voice. Where the fathers’ band was rooted in the blues, much of the sons’ ensemble took its cue from Muscle Shoals soul. But regularly, the generational differences nicely converged.

The show opening “All Night,” for instance, was bathed in an entirely different Southern aura – namely, the power chords and celebratory rock intent of Tom Petty. That inspiration would echo more profoundly near the end of the evening with a cover of Petty’s “Southern Accent,” a tale of weather-beaten cultural identity that differs greatly from the usual fist-pumping anthems associated with conventional Southern rock. Performed with a percussion-less arrangement of vocals, keyboards and guitar, Petty’s tune became something of a cautionary meditation.

Both songs featured Allman, who looked, acted, and sang nothing like his late father, Gregg Allman. The younger artist was more jovial and outgoing, possessing a deeper, less blues-savvy voice. That helped works like “All Gone” and “Down by the River” fortify the soul-savvy foundation of the newer band’s sound.

Betts, on the other hand, is a dead ringer for dad. He sang with his father’s high Southern tenor and played guitar with a knowing progressive phrasing that propelled a very faithful reading of the Dickey Betts instrumental staple “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” as well the best of the newer group’s material, namely an extended work called “Autumn Breeze.” The latter revealed a relaxed, orchestral groove that his guitarwork, along with the colorful slide guitar contributions of Johnny Stachela, glided over with studied grace.

The family ties didn’t end there. Playing bass was Berry Duane Oakley, son of founding Allman Brothers Band bassist Berry Oakley. Although he honored his father by singing lead on the John Lee Hooker boogie gem “Dimples” (a tune his dad regularly performed with the Allman Brothers), the younger Oakley was content to play the role of lieutenant in the Allman Betts brigade. He added joyous, rolling bass lines to new works like “Good Ol’ Days” and a patient, practiced foundation to a rendition of “Purple Rain” that layered the Prince hit, as well as the other dozen compositions making up this spirited performance, with a coating of honest Southern solemnity.



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