Once upon a time, the two names were entwined, brothers in spirit and in music. Then there was a time in the not too distant past when the names Allman and Betts weren’t used in the same sentence, much less on the same stage or in the same studio.
Gregg was allegedly not opposed to an Allman Brothers reunion of sorts toward the end of his life, but it never came together. But the heirs of the Allman-Betts legacy, Duane Betts (son of Dickey Betts) and Devon Allman (Gregg’s son), have combined their own spiritual energy and talents to make the sound live again.
Devon and Duane hatched the idea after a Gregg Allman tribute, then, after Duane opened for Devon on the 2018 Devon Allman Project world tour for a year, the two decided to combine as The Allman Betts Band, recruiting the son of another Allman Brothers member, bassist Berry Oakley Jr., and adding slide guitarist Johnny Stachela, drummer John Lum, and former Sheryl Crow percussionist R. Scott Bryan, who had all played with Allman as part of the Project. The band debuted in November 2018, with the addition of keyboardist John Ginty (Dixie Chicks, Robert Randolph).
Down to the River was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and has that Swampers feel, aided by former Allman Brothers (and Rolling Stones) keyboardist Chuck Leavell, who guests on “Good Ol’ Days,” and also Gregg’s former B-3 burbler Peter Levin.
“All Night” sounds like a Southern rock-ier version of the Allmans, Devon sounding more like a soul man than the pain-wracked blues moans that haunted his daddy and Betts bringing back the Allman legacy with his soaring solo, sounding as meaty and bluesy as his former project, Royal Southern Brotherhood with Mike Zito and Cyril Neville.
Betts is aptly named, combining the guitar talents of Duane and Dickey into one body on “Shinin’,” a song he co-wrote and sings on, incorporating elements of “Whipping Post” and “Jessica” for an updated Allman-esque jam.
“I got somethin’ to say,” Allman proclaims on the muscular rocker “Try,” once again soulfully serenading over the top of Betts’ and Stachela’s Allman glide.
On the title cut, Devon gets closer to his daddy’s vocals than ever before, evoking the sound of one of Gregg’s major influences, Bobby “Blue” Bland.
Betts jumps in on vocals once again on “Melodies Are Memories,” sounding like road dawgs flipping through late-night radio channels in the van, picking up Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers lining out the verses, then the Allmans’ strong signal busting in on the choruses.
It’s comforting to hear these sounds once again, performed in a manner that reflects and honors the spirits and sounds of their fathers without plagiarizing their music.