Brothers And Sisters

The Allman Brothers Band

Capricorn Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It would be too easy to write off Brothers And Sisters, the 1973 outing from The Allman Brothers Band, as a must-own album. After all, it does contain two of the best-known tracks from the band, "Ramblin' Man" and "Jessica". It would be easy to invoke the pity clause, since the band was still recovering from the 1971 motorcycle accident which took the life of Duane Allman. If that wasn't enough heartbreak, the Greek tragedy continued in 1972 when bassist Berry Oakley was killed in another motorcycle accident, blocks from Duane Allman's fatal crash… just over a year to the day of the first crash.

Yet if one who's familiar with the Allmans to this point in their career really sits down and listens to Brothers And Sisters, two words should come to their mouths: "Uh oh." While this is still very much a listenable album, it does reflect the strain the band had been under dealing with tragedy after tragedy, and the stress begins to take its toll.

In all fairness, the fact that any band could go on after the deaths of two key members in just over a year is an amazing display of heart, and I honestly cannot imagine how Gregg Allman and company were able to keep things going after Oakley's death. And it might seem that I'm making light of Dickey Betts's skills as a guitarist and songwriter. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Listen to the instrumental "Jessica," and hear how all the influences the Allmans had been playing since the late '60s finally merge in this jazz-rock number. It is a tad overplayed on radio, admittedly, but it's still a tour de force that is rightfully seen as one of the best songs in the Allmans' repertoire.

Yet this, the band's fifth disc (not including Beginningsmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , a re-packaging of the Allmans's first two albums) shows how important both Duane Allman and Oakley were to this group. There is a noticeable change in the band's overall sound, though to lay all the blame on the loss of the two players is not quite accurate.

To be sure, the focus moves a little away from the blues stylings that Gregg Allman had down pat, and if any of the Allman Brothers Band albums can be called "southern rock," this one is most definitely the closest to being pigeonholed as such. But a third key element for the Allmans is missing - namely, producer Tom Dowd, who knew how to capture the band's sound in all its gritty glory. Brothers And Sisters finds the production duties shared between the band and Johnny Sandlin - and the resulting sound, a tad more polished than previous albums, doesn't quite sound right for the kind of music the Allmans had been playing. A key element of their sound had been a "dirty" sound - meaning simply that the band was captured almost as if they were in a live setting, without the sterility of the studio.

I don't recall where I read it, so forgive me if I don't give credit where credit is due, but one review of this disc I read noted that Oakley's bass is higher in the mix, while replacement bassist Lamar Williams is almost buried among the other instruments. Whoever noted this is absolutely right - something which is unfair to Williams, since he seems like he was able to hold his own with the rest of the band.

As for the bulk of the music - well, "Ramblin' Man" and "Jessica" are almost universally recognized, and I do happen to like both tracks, so forgive me if I turn my focus on the other five. Musically, it just sounds like the band's heart wasn't totally in these tracks - "Wasted Words," one of the final tracks with Oakley, features Gregg Allman sounding damned uncomfortable, while "Southbound," "Come And Go Blues" and "Jelly Jelly," listenable tracks admittedly, don't quite stand up as well as other selections from the Allmans' discography.

"Pony Boy," written by Betts, almost seals the deal on how the group's sound is going to go. It's almost as if Betts had the heart of a country player, but played rock laced with country influences to pay the bills. Like most of the album, it's listenable, but it's not the group's best work.

One thing which gets unnoticed in general is that the two best songs feature guest musician Les Dudek. His presence on "Jessica" is limited to acoustic guitar - no major sin there - but he's credited with lead guitar on "Ramblin' Man". I don't know why, but it concerns me that the best track the Allmans have has to rely on an outside musician to help push it over the edge.

For that matter, one can't really blame Gregg Allman if his heart isn't in this record. The addition of pianist Chuck Leavell places a lot of the keyboard responsibilities on his shoulders - leaving little for Allman himself to do. Item to note: Allman is not involved at all on "Pony Boy". 'Nuff said.

It should be viewed as a miracle that Brothers And Sisters ever came together at all, and it does show on two tracks that the Allmans could overcome anything thrown their way. But this album also showed, with apologies to Superman, that the men of steel were starting to get tired.

Rating: B

User Rating: B



© 2002 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capricorn Records, and is used for informational purposes only.