15 Best Additions to the Allman Brothers Repertoire

Written By: Chad Berndtson

:: The 15 Best Additions to the Allman Brothers Repertoire in the Warren/Derek Era ::

There’s no question that the Warren Haynes/Derek Trucks era of the Allman Brothers Band did much to revitalize the band’s catalog. While in recent years there’s been an increasingly frustrating dearth of new songs – and a little too much reliance a classic rock jukebox of covers – the last 13-or-so years brought a measure of adventure and unpredictability back into ABB setlists.

In honor of Beacon 2014 – and the coming end of the Warren/Derek era – we picked out 15 defining catalog additions. This feature began as a list of original songs, but soon after we decided it would be most appropriate to look at it in terms of the full repertoire – there are several covers, for example, that have become staples, and also adjustments or rearrangements of songs that have really spiced things up. (One example: our No. 1 pick for this list, a song older than Derek Trucks.)

Our criteria were that the selection had to be an original, a cover, or an arrangement adjustment or major change to a song that entered the repertoire in March 2001 or later (Sorry, “Kind of Bird.” You too, “Worried Down With the Blues.”) And lists like these are by their nature exercises in exclusion and excuses to argue – so don’t hold back.

15. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad

As part of its ongoing salute to fallen founder Duane Allman and his many associations, the band began tackling Derek and the Dominos songs in earnest in 2003. Several of the songs from that landmark album, including "Layla," "Anyday" and "Key to the Highway," have made for some top-flight ABB jams over the years. But it's "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad" - angsty, hard-driving and making full use of the ABB's "freight train" drum corps - that's fit best, especially when Derek and Warren are in attack-dog mode.

14. Egypt

The galloping instrumental "Egypt," which first turned up in March 2005, gave hope to a lot of fans that another fresh batch of new original material was on the way two years after Hittin the Note. That wasn’t to be, but "Egypt" earned its spot as a mysterious-sounding and resonant mid-set jam, allegedly created from a sketch of a song Oteil Burbridge had developed years earlier.

13. The jammed-out Rocking Horse

"Rocking Horse" has been around for ages as primarily a Gov’t Mule tune and in 2001 fully entered the ABB repertoire with a studio version recorded for Hittin the Note. It’s had an interesting evolution since then. Whereas earlier on it often had a mid-set filler feel, in recent years, the band took hold of the Horse and turned it into a serious jamming outlet that usually includes a groovy intro, a wailing first solo segment, and, even more recently, a key-change and ascent into gooey, psychedelic soundscapes before dropping back into the aggressive head. It has its detractors, but on a good night, “Rocking Horse” makes you wish the band had gotten as adventurous with other former “placeholder” songs.

12. High Cost of Low Living
“High Cost,” also from Hittin the Note, sounds like a classic Allman Brothers Band song, with perhaps a little bit more elder-years resignation sewn into its defiant, guitar-gnarled frame. It sounds sturdy and dependable – and it is.

11. Woman Across the River
The Allmans reworking of this Freddie King number is mid-set filler for some and is usually pretty straightforward. But it can also yield a flamethrower of a jam if the guitarists feel like ripping it up. A strange priority in an Allman Brothers setlist: it’s never the song you’d request first, but when it’s over, you’re glad they played it.

10. Afro Blue

Out of all the band’s variously successful “jazz classic” experiments, it’s Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” that’s been most consistent and the most interesting over the past decade. It helped, of course, that “Blue” was a staple for both Gov’t Mule and the Derek Trucks Band for years – and is evidently a favorite jam of both guitarists.

9. I Walk On Gilded Splinters

The band’s sizzling take on the Dr. John classic has plenty of everything: a nice boogie groove to get asses shaking, “back away, I’m in charge” Gregg vocals, and ample room for guitar fireworks. Frequently played since its 2004 debut, it can keep momentum steady in a high-energy set and also bring back energy during a slower show.

8. The Weight

No matter how many times you’ve heard it, you know this is going to be a fun one the second it starts – and not least because the Allmans are covering the Aretha-style version of the song Duane Allman was part of. Drenched in soul thanks to Warren Haynes and any number of guest vocalists who’ve had their way with it, I can’t recall a weak performance of this one.

7. Who’s Been Talkin’

This Latin-tinged reworking of the Willie Dixon chestnut, which debuted in 2003, has quietly and unostentatiously become one of the band’s modern-era warhorses. Warren always seems to bite into the vocals, the guitar segments are fierce, and it’s always a nice showcase for guest musicians, too.

6. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

It may seem like a no-frills jam on an oft-covered blues staple, but like “Who’s Been Talkin’,” “Schoolgirl” can erupt into full-on fireworks without warning. On a good night, it can be a showpiece jam. On a slower night, the band will use its easy, swinging tempo to recalibrate a bit, letting each guitarist wear it out.

5. Blind Willie McTell

A number of Bob Dylan songs entered the ABB repertoire in the last decade, none as successfully as this one, which sounds less like the ABB going out to cover a Dylan tune and more like the ABB pulling a Dylan tune fully into its orbit. Whether it’s the portent in the lyrics or the way the rhythm swells in the hands of a three-drummer attack and a bassist as groovy as Oteil, this just feels right.

4. Into the Mystic

The ABB embrace of Van Morrison songs has been a divisive issue among fans, but its beautiful version of “Mystic” is sublime, especially with Trucks’ soaring guitar pushing it ever skyward. Since 2011, the band has also shown interest in jamming out the end of the song, making it that much more impactful.

3. Instrumental Illness

What happened to "Instrumental Illness?" For about a five-year period, it was a showpiece in the band’s repertoire – an instrumental jammer with serious firepower, an unusual head, ample room for exploration among the band’s improvisers, and the best new Allmans instrumental since “High Falls.” Last played in 2006, it’s inexplicably never returned to the repertoire.

2. Desdemona

Perhaps the lone “recent” original strong and sturdy enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the ABB’s trove of classic songs, "Desdemona" has everything: a woman-done-wrong theme, passionate, howling Gregg vocals, and a jam segment that often starts patiently, builds deliberately and then winds up in a window-shattering squall.

1. The jammed-out Black Hearted Woman

"Black Hearted Woman" is one of the oldest songs in the ABB catalog, and who could predict it would see such reinvention? But some years back, the band started adding a long, monster-jamming outro to the standard "Black Hearted Woman" that churns, roils, briefly becomes a jam on the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One” and usually features a game of “who can really burn it down” between Warren and Derek as they take back to back solos. Perhaps the greatest compliment is that this jamming element has turned "Black Hearted Woman" into the one you’re waiting for – it could close a show or hold an encore, and these days, often does.

Honorable mention:
* Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City
* 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)
* The jammed-out Revival
* Old Before My Time

[Published on: 3/6/14]

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