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BACK IN 1968, people around Atlanta were saying that the Allman Brothers Band was as good as any other rock group in the U.S. It was true, but not many people knew it.
Since then, the band's music has grown, and their reputation has grown with it.
Duane Allman is dead, and with him died much of the group's potential for growth.
The Allman Brothers music was based to a great degree on the interplay between Duane's cutting blues-oriented slide and Dicky Betts's acid-oriented lead guitar. The group's music will have to change, but the shift in direction is not yet clearly visible.
The Allman Brothers' Eat A Peach is a transition album. Most of the album was recorded live before Duane's death; only the studio side was recorded after it.
Half of the album is a 35-minute jam built around the theme from "First There is a Mountain". Recorded at the same Fillmore East concert series from which their third album was taken, the number fails to reach the near-perfection which characterized the long jams of the previous album. The beginning and end of the song are brilliant expositions of dual guitar work, but the intervening bass, drum, and organ solos cannot sustain the musical intensity of Allman and Betts's guitars.
The third side has two old blues songs, also performed live, and three studio cuts on which Duane plays. The two live numbers, "One Way Out" by Sonny Boy Williamson and "Trouble No More" by Muddy Waters, are both prime examples of the group's tightness. The lead guitars, the vocals, the bass, are all working together in a way that most rock bands simply cannot.
THE FIRST side is the one recorded after Duane's death. The best of the three songs is Gregg Allman's "Melissa...." Bets's guitar playing on this song is almost unquestionably the best of his career, and the song as a whole is hauntingly beautiful.
Ori "Aint Wastin' Time No More" Betts plays both slide and lead guitars, and the result is certainly good. One can only wonder, however, how much better the song would have been if Duane had been there to play.
The major work of the side is "Les Brers in A Minor," an instrumental sometimes reminiscent of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." The song has several themes, and the sometimes akward transitions between them make the number as a whole seem chaotic. In this song more than any other on the side Duane's guitar is missed. There are times when one simply knows that Duane will slide into the music, and it is always a shock when it doesn't happen.
Barry Oakley's bass playing has always been solid, but this album shows, especially in his solos, that his sense of rhythm is much better developed than his sense of melody. He will probably continue to develop as the group grows, but he will amost certainly never be able to reach the heights that Phil Lesh or Jack Casady do.
One of the continuing puzzles about the Allman Brothers is their lack of effective use of the two drummers. Most of the time the two seem to be doing the same rhythmic patterns, and as a result the duo is not much more effective than either one would be playing alone.
Gregg Allman's vocals are strong throughout the album, but his organ solos more often detract then add to the instrumental jams.
THE ALBUM as a whole is certainly a good one, although it is certainly not one of the best albums of the year. It does prove, however, that the group will not stagnate without Duane.
Last summer at an Allman Brothers concert in Atlanta, a three-year-old girl wandered out on stage during the climax of "Whipping Post" and stood mesmerized. She saw the magic of the Allman Brothers then, and even after Duane's death the magic is still there now.
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