Greg Allman returns to his roots with “Low Country Blues”
GREG ALLMAN Low Country Blues (Rounder)
Greg Allman first conjured the spirit of the country blues 40 years ago as the young lead singer and organ player for the Allman Brothers Band. So it’s no surprise the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame icon sounds even more authentic and soulful now that he has the world-weary mileage to match his vocal chops.
For his first solo album in 14 years and first new studio effort since the Allman Brothers Band’s released Hittin’ the Note in 2003, Allman covers 11 classic blues covers and an original he co-wrote with latter-day Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes. Though he plays that classic Hammond B-3 organ on many cuts as well as a bit of acoustic guitar, it’s Allman’s bluesy growl that carries the show.
Famed producer T Bone Burnett, who helmed B.B. King’s landmark One Kind Favor as well as recent albums by John Mellencamp and Elvis Costello, surrounded Allman with a stellar cast of musicians, including pianist Dr. John, guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Jay Bellerose. The album is propelled by stylish, understated playing and a mix that lets you hear the subtleties of the instrumentation.
Allman knows this territory well: the swampy blues of Sleepy John Estes’ “Floating Bridge” the eerie darkness of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman,” the country machismo of Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” What’s most surprising is how he wraps his voice around a mid-tempo horn-laced ballad like B.B. King’s “Please Accept My Love,” revealing an uncharacteristic vulnerability.
With Low Country Blues, Greg Allman has fully embraced the music that first inspired him all those years ago — and proven once again that few can sing the blues better than he can.
JAKE SHIMABUKURO Peace Love Ukulele (Hitchhike Records)
The modest ukulele, once considered a novelty instrument played only by the likes of Tiny Tim, has risen in stature in recent years, thanks in no small part to virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro.
On Peace Love Ukulele, the Hawaiian native continues to transcend the limits of the four-stringed instrument. While Shimabukuro offers plenty of inspired originals (the World War II tribute “Go for Broke,” the frenetic jazz-tinged “Bring Your Adz”), it’s on the covers that he wows you most.
That’s only because it’s so amazing to hear him somehow find all the voicing and nuance of Queen’s bombastic “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the ukulele, a song he performs solo here. He does the same with a gorgeous treatment of Leonard Cohen’s iconic “Hallelujah.”
(Check out the fourth annual Ukefest at Swallow Hill on Feb. 4, featuring national and local musicians celebrating the ukulele.)