Picks and Pans Review: Dreams
It is a dubious claim that this year marks the Allman Brothers' 20th anniversary, since the boys from Macon, Ga., disbanded in 1982. But a 1989 reunion tour was apparently deemed reason enough for this 55-song retrospective, which samples the band members' work from 1966 to 1988.
Much of Dreams would have to be included in any definitive rock history. From 1969 to 1972, the band released four albums of classic stature, including such rock/blues songs as "Whipping Post" and "Blue Sky," the gorgeous testament to the twin-guitar mastery of Dickey Betts and Duane Allman. But after motorcycle accidents killed Duane in 1971 and bassist Berry Oakley a year later, the Allman Brothers as a revolutionary white blues band ceased to exist.
Duane and his younger brother, Gregg, formed the Allman Joys in 1965 and, after leaving their Southern base for L.A., cut two embarrassing albums of psychedelic pop as the Hourglass. Betts and Oakley, meanwhile, drummed up a band called the Second Coming and even on a hilarious cover of the Jefferson Airplane's "She Has Funny Cars," glimpses of Betts's sweetly melodic style can be heard. Members of the two bands joined forces to form the Allmans, and by the time they released their torrid live LP from Fillmore East in 1971, they were known as inventive interpreters of American blues. They covered everybody from Willie Dixon to Elmore James, stretching the form with exhaustive instrumental jams (although those long improvisations seem dated now).
Previously unreleased gems here include a low-down reworking of William Weldon and Roy Jordan's "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town" and "One More Ride," featuring Duane's impeccable slide work. For novelty's sake, there are two of Miami Vice star Don Johnson's songwriting gigs with the Allmans, Betts's Great Southern spin-off and Gregg's duet with then-wife Cher in 1977, "Can You Fool." But the last tracks on Dreams show that by the early '80s, with Betts and Gregg striving to keep it intact, the group was uninspired.
Ravaged by death and drug scandals, the Allmans never recovered the passion of their early efforts. But their blistering guitar work and Gregg's been-down-there-before vocals have never been surpassed in their genre. To paraphrase Gregg's 1974 minor hit "Midnight Rider," the road may not have gone on forever, but the Allmans left some historical markers along the way. (Polydor/PolyGram)