By: Bill Clifford
For 18 years, Warren Haynes and his wife have been producing an annual holiday get together that donates the proceeds to charities like Habitat for Humanity. Haynes re-launches his independent label, Evil Teen Records, with the release of this double CD taken from the 12th Annual Xmas Jam in Ashville N.C. While Haynes' benefit concerts are always all-star jams, this particular year was especially bittersweet coming directly on the heels of bassist Allen Woody's death. The results are a fun and moving tribute to fallen friends, and a fine collection for any live music fan.
Woody was a former Allman Brother and Haynes' longtime partner in Gov't Mule, and these performances were some of the first for Haynes after Woody's passing. Drummer Matt Abts (Gov't Mule) and longtime friend, Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, join him for a set strongly influenced by Woody's presence. The musicianship and camaraderie are so tight with this trio they could have picked up where the Mule left off. They're joined by Dr. Dan Matrazzo (keys) and John Popper for the Blues Traveler classic "The Mountains Win Again," which they dedicate "to Allen and to Bobby," a reference to BT's own fallen bassist, Bobby Sheehan. You can hear Popper's grief as he passionately sings, "Yeah, can ya feel the same? Yeah, you gotta love the pain."
Col. Bruce Hampton leads the Aquarium Rescue Unit through the 10-minute high riser, "Elevator To The Moon." Together for the first time in five years on these performances, Hampton trades solos with Jimmy Herring and Oteil Burbridge, who mimics his bass notes vocally, only to have the spotlight stolen by Herring's searing, pitch heavy guitar run. Popper joins ARU for the extended jam session "Time Is Free/Jack The Rabbit," where he holds nothing back.
Disc two starts off with Popper and Haynes eloquently letting loose on Traveler's "Alone." With two acoustic guitars and none of Popper's usual manic harmonica, this ode to lost love takes on new meaning. Haynes is joined in the acoustic set by Edwin McCain for "Solitude." McCain is a beautiful singer and eloquent lyricist in his own right, and this ditty of lost innocence captures the mood of the evening. The acoustic set continues with Kevn Kinney and Popper joining Haynes and McCain for a moving cover of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." The Allman Brothers Band close the night in fine southern rock fashion including the classics "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" and "Statesboro Blues." The spirits of Woody and Sheehan are felt once more on the Haynes' staple "Soulshine," where Haynes and Gregg Allman trade verses.
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