Gregg Allman (Rounder)
Gregg Allman’s farewell album veers deeply into parting sentiment, but it also reminds us of what a singular talent we lost when he died in May.
Farewell albums from musicians who know they are dying have become a thing of late. And Allman’s just might be the best of them.
“I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone,” he sings on “My Only True Friend,” the only song he had a hand in writing. The lyric feels too literal, but soon the singing and playing that made Allman great transcend any maudlin tendencies.
With Southern Blood, Allman serves notice one last time that he earned his place in the count-them-on-one hand set of white singers who could belt the blues from within.
Produced with tender care by Don Was, himself a studio legend, the album soars with arrangements built to spotlight Allman’s singing. The McCrary Sisters and Buddy Miller sit in on several cuts, including a brilliant, horn-infused arrangement of “Black Muddy River.”
On the finale, Jackson Browne’s “Song for Adam,” Allman chokes up when he sings, “It still seems that he stopped singing in the middle of his song.” Was said Allman thought then of his brother, Duane Allman, who died at 24 at the peak of his power.
Maybe so. But he could have been mulling his own fate, too — and the knowledge, proven with gusto on his last recording, that he still had plenty to give.
— SCOTT STROUD,
SLEEP WELL BEAST
The National (4AD)
The world’s best rock bands are built on unique blends of talent and sound that set them apart from all of the others who strap on guitars and blister fingers in basements. And few bands have soared higher or set themselves apart more distinctively than the National, which exploded out of Cincinnati nearly two decades ago.
With Sleep Well Beast, the band’s seventh studio album and first in four years, the National revives the distinctive vibe that led it to the forefront of 21st century arena rock bands. Familiar or not, these guys are good at what they do.
Pulsating bass and drums set a forward-leaning foundation for the band's polished guitar-keyboard mix. Together they convey urgency, transporting listeners through mostly dark lyrics past a sonic backdrop that offers hope mainly because it's on its way somewhere. This happens on the mellow opener, “Nobody Else Will Be There,” and on the rollicking single, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.”
What takes the band higher, ultimately, is Matt Berninger’s charisma. Not since Bryan Ferry’s heyday has a singer seemed to have stepped so vividly from the pages of a Raymond Chandler story.
The heartache is palpable. So is the tragic hero’s cool remove.
Time will tell if the National belongs among rock’s legends. Some bands with this much attitude lose luster when the charm wears off. But there’ll be time to sort that out — and the true believers won't be disappointed in the meantime.
— SCOTT STROUD,
Milligan Vaughan Project (Mark One Records)
If you enjoy Texas-style blues, you’ll enjoy this fine debut by vocalist Malford Milligan and guitarist Tyrone Vaughan, son of the great bluesman Jimmie Vaughan and nephew of the late legendary blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Malford, who has toured with and worked on albums with Marcia Ball and other established acts, appeared on NBC’s The Voice in 2013 and is a one-time Austin Chronicle Music Awards Vocalist of the Year. He brings a real authentic, road-weary, gutbucket texture to vocal parts, while Vaughan contributes a number of impressive licks worthy of comparison to what his famous father and uncle have done in the past. Vaughan has performed with the likes of Billy Gibbons, SRV’s Double Trouble, Pinetop Perkins, John Popper, and others.
The disc is a likable mix of blues, soul, and rock with some gospel and hints of other genres. The nine studio tracks were recorded in Austin, a combination of originals penned by Milligan and songs written by Buddy Guy and the Rev. James Cleveland. There also are two live bonus tracks, with most songs backed by a strong group of musicians except for one acoustic gospel number that features Milligan and Vaughan by themselves.
— TOM HENRY,
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