Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Allman Brothers Take Texas By Storm: Down In Texas '71

Historically speaking, it is all but impossible to view the Allman Brothers Band's newest archival release, Down In Texas '71, in the context of it's place in the legendary band's history: Recorded at the Austin Municipal Auditorium on September 28, 1971, the concert took place a month before guitarist Duane Allman's untimely and tragic passing. However, if you are able to wrestle your ears and mind out of that perspective of listening to the nine song set played that evening, you'll find it to be a fascinating document of a band that has just released it's third album, the iconic At Fillmore East, and is pushing it's limits as a unit musically, hinting at just what might have been in store for their future had Allman and bassist Berry Oakley not passed away.

While the setlist itself resembles the band's typical set at the time, it is, in true Allman Brothers fashion, both subtley and not-so-subtley different. The entire band hits the ground running, roaring through tried and true workhorses Statesboro Blues, Trouble No More and Done Somebody Wrong, before the elder Allman breaks the tension, cracking a joke at the fire marshal's expense. The trio of road-worn openers however, nearly hide the first of the gems that makes this release truly special: The presence of saxophonist Juicy Carter. Unlike his previously documented appearances with The Brothers, during the At Fillmore East weekend six months prior, Carter's playing 'fits' more often than it doesn't, displaying just how much the band (and perhaps Carter as well) had matured in such a relatively short period of time.

Carter's contributions (and improvements) are most noteable during the sadly incomplete instrumental masterpiece, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, which features impressive interplay between Allman, co-guitarist Dickey Betts and Carter. One-to-one it is a vast improvement over the same selection recorded six months prior, with Carter's contributions coming tastefully, rather than painfully. And impressively, the now-septet finds yet another gear on the following number, T-Bone Walker's Stormy Monday. Clocking in at nine minutes, it is a blues improv master class, with Gregg Allman joining in on the Hammond organ, and delivering his finest and most impassioned vocals of the evening.

The exploration is far from over, as the now fully-acclimated unit barrels into Willie Cobbs' You Don't Love Me. As per usually, it is a 15-minute full-tilt boogie, with Berry Oakley's bouncing bass line somehow finding a way to stand out from the crowd and drive the Allman Brothers freight train forward. That is until the half-way point, where for roughly a minute Duane leads his band through a darkly toned jam, unlike any previously heard in the interlude section of the oft-stretched out epic, before all seven musicians lock in and roar toward the finish line.

Amid and despite calls for 'F*&king Whipping Post', a scorching Hot 'Lanta closes out the set led by Carter and the guitarists, who are quite clearly, at this point, at home together in the music. The somewhat abrupt end to the recording serves only to snap the listener out of the musical time machine, and trigger a flood of the all-too-prevalent 'What if's' that, even with one's best efforts to hold them at bay, are inevitable when listening to 'Duane-era' live recordings. Alas, we must embrace them, and count ourselves lucky that moments such as this night in Austin were captured for us to enjoy.

The addition of thirteen minutes of interview with Berry and Duane provide a fantastic counterpoint to the music. The slightly warbly and occasionally sped up recording contains matter-of-fact conversation about the band's performances, Duane's other musical endeavors, and their next album. Along with giving the listener the rare opportunity to hear Berry Oakley speak, it also serves as a reminder that while musically, we regard the Allman Brothers Band, (specifically Berry and Duane) as deities, in reality they are simply young men who love each other and their music.


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