Ruf Records – 2014
12 tracks; 49 minutes
Devon Allman is clearly a guy who hates taking it easy. If he is not touring with Royal Southern Brotherhood he is playing or recording solo material. For this album Devon broke away from his habit of recording ‘down south’ and headed to Chicago to record with another hyperactive musician, Tom Hambridge, who produced and played drums. Devon used Felton Crews on bass, Marty Sammon on keys and Giles Corey on rhythm guitar; Bobby Schneck Jr plays guitar on one track and adds backing vocals on two tracks, as does Wendy Moten. The material is a mixture of five Devon originals, three well-selected covers and material written for the sessions by Tom Hambridge and his regular writing partner Richard Fleming (three songs, plus one written by Tom and Lee Roy Parnell).
Strangely the CD opens with three of Tom’s songs but they all fit Devon’s style really well. “Half The Truth” has some searing lead guitar from Devon over an insistent rhythm riff from Giles as well as displaying Devon’s distinctive voice from the start. Devon has always avoided direct comparisons with his father Gregg but on “Can’t Lose Them All” the band creates a very Allman Brothers feel, especially in the twin guitar work and Marty’s B3 underpinning. Devon may not play slide but he has clearly inherited some of Uncle Duane’s abilities as a sinuous solo here demonstrates. The third Hambridge tune is “Leavin’” on which Giles plays acoustic guitar, Devon electric rhythm and Bobby Schneck takes the solo honours. The combined effect of the guitars takes us back to “Brothers And Sisters” era ABB on a tune with an excellent hook in the chorus. The Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” is given a sprightly makeover with more fine rhythm work from Giles, allowing Devon to embellish with small guitar accents while combining his vocals with those of Wendy Moten to good effect. A striking solo tops off the song which is a highlight of the album.
Marty Sammon takes a break on Devon’s “Traveling” which is a muscular workout with plenty of wah-wah rhythm, a song that clearly reflects Devon’s globe-trotting with RSB as he observes “funny how cities at night look like galaxies from 30 000 feet”. Undoubtedly the centrepiece of the album is the lengthy “Midnight Lake Michigan”, an instrumental in which Devon’s guitar ranges from eerie sounds at the beginning to full-on aural assault, primitive but effective, especially when supported by improvised percussion effects from Tom – the effect at times recalls Santana in the “Caravanserai” period. One suspects that this one was a late night studio jam which just took off, as only Devon, Marty and the rhythm section are present. A cover of Otis Taylor’s “Ten Million Slaves” hardly lightens the mood but is very well done, Devon’s gruff vocal particularly suited to the song’s bleak portrait of slave trading. Tom’s superb percussion on this track deserves a special mention.
Two more of Devon’s originals follow, “Blackjack Heartattack” tells of gambling addiction, Devon using a slightly distorted vocal over a funky rhythm while “Back To You” is more personal, an overtly romantic song with some fiery playing over a gentle tune on which Wendy Moten’s b/v are a great addition. The last of Tom’s tunes is “Times Have Changed”, a foot-tapper with some rocking piano and guitar. Luther Allison’s “Ragged & Dirty” gives the album its title and is covered here in a short version with Devon singing strongly as well as playing some aggressive wah-wah. The album closes on a gentle note with Devon’s resonator set against percussion from Tom in a duo performance. Devon sings convincingly of needing to get away from the city, escape to the country and enjoy the quiet life – an unlikely possibility with his current schedule!
Although recorded in Chicago there is little straight blues here. What there is in abundance is further proof of Devon Allman’s abilities as singer, guitarist, writer and interpreter of songs. An excellent album worth seeking out.