There is an old and strangely appropriate axiom that says, simply, 'you can't reheat a souffle." The mixture loses something and the second time around. Similarly, there is, in the finest musical groups a fragile chemistry that stubbornly defies any and all subsequent attempts at duplication.
For the Allman Brothers Band, in its latest incarnation, this axiom is a frustrating, yet undeniable, truism.
When we last left the Allman Brothers, they were caught in the vortex of an ugly publicity hurricane, swirling around Gregg Allman's damning testimony in the cocaine-trafficking trial of former roadie Scotter Herring. This, and what Capricorn Records euphemistically referred to as "mounting pressures," were actually the result of increasingly divergent loyalties, cumulative artistic tension and a stiff dose of old-fashioned southern bad blood.
What followed was almost pre-ordained. In 1976, the band finally splintered under the sheer weight of its excesses and extremes. Keyboardist Chuck Leavell, bass player Lamar Williams and drummer "Jaimoe" Johanson left to form the thriving fusion group Sea Level. Guitarist Dicky Betts (credited with the acidic prediction that "there is no way we can work with Gregg Allman again. Ever.") rounded up some Georgia sessionmen for his new band, Great Southern. Greggf Allman, struck out for California and life with Cher Bono. It was, according to Betts, the end of the Allman Brothers Band as a musical entity.
By July 1978, however, Betts was eating his words. The Former Allman Brothers guitarist and his band were joined onstage at a Central Park concert by Allman and drummers Johanson and Butch Trucks. In August, Capricorn Records President Phil Walden introduced the new band (now fleshed out with Great Southern bassist David Goldflies and guitarist Dan Toler) to a record industry gathering in Macon. The reunited Brothers (minus Sea Level members Leavell and Williams) entered Miami's Criteria Studios at the end of 1978, and emerged with seven original tunes and high hopes for regaining their lost artistic stature.
Not surprisingly, the band's seminal work in Southern rock 'n' roll has come back to haunt them. Although each cut on "Enlightened Rogers" (Capricorn 0218) resounds with echoes of the original band, the album as a whole tends to lend life to Chuck Leavell's fear that "the magic of the past" could not be recreated.
What has happended, in effect, is that the band has been consumed by the genre they were largely responsible for creating. The music has become almost formulaic, with the percussion insistence of the twin drummers, and Ebtts' recreation of the Duane Allman-era double-lead guitar harmonies contributing to an annoying instrumental uniformity.
Uniformity, nevertheless, is one of Southern rock 'n' rollhs prime selling points. "Boogeying" by nature requires a steady driving beat to fuel its fervent gyrations and undulations. With this consideration in mind, "Blind Love," "Crazy Love," and "Can't Take It With You" take up nicely where such Allman Brothers classics as "Statesboro Blues," "Wasted Words," and "Whipping Post" left off, a little more than three years ago.
Where "Enlightened Rogues" suffers most notably is in lyrical content and delivery. Dickey Betts had a hand in writing five of the new songs, and, on the basis of these cuts, one is at a loss to find the source of the marvelous lyrical felicity of "Ramblin' Man" and "Blue Sky." There is, in fact, a tolerance threshold for such cliche, "warm beer and cold women" tunes as 'Blind Love":
There ain't nobody gonna do my baby no wrong
There ain't nobody gonna do my baby no wrong
I love her even though she's gone
I know my babyt I know my baby's been out on* the street
She got a story to tell for every man she meets
It is unfortunate that Gregg Allman, the original band's creative fountainhead since the death of Duane Allman, takes an obvious back seat to Betts on the reunion album. While Allman's single contribution, "It Just Ain't Easy," falls far below what we have come to expect since his tour de force solo album, "Laid Back," the album as a whole could have benefited from more of his bluesy, nasal lead vocals.
As it is, Allman shares vocal duties with Betts, drummer Butch Trucks, and background vocalists Mimi Hart and Bonnie Bramlett. The sound of Allman straining to be heard over this veritable chorus of vocalists gives a curiously desperate quality to the music, which is incongruous with the "down and out" tone of resignation the original band achieved with their early bluesy rockers and ballads.
It was, ironically, Duane Allman who came up with the title for the reunion album. "Enlightened Rogues" was his term of endearment for the members of the band that first performed together in Jacksonville more than 10 years ago. Judging from his contributions to the band's musical library, Allman evidently emphasized the roguish side of the band's collective psyche. Perhaps if the new Allman Brothers Band would take a similar attitude toward their music, they could recapture some of the glory and inspiration of the Duane Allman era. As it is, "Enlightened Rogues" is one souffle that belongs on the back burner, at least until the original recipe is recovered.