Posthumous albums sometimes land with such a proximity to the particular artist’s passing that, like humans’ ability to see light from burnt-out stars, it’s often difficult to recognize the long-flickering light’s transience, much less accept it.
Paralleling this phenomenon, Gregg Allman’s final album, Southern Blood, is a sonically robust collection of orchestral folk-rock driven by twangy riffs. Released on Rounder Records, this album is the younger Allman brother’s first new collection since his Grammy-nominated solo album, Low Country Blues (2011). With collaborative help from both long-time manager Michael Lehman and Grammy Award-winning producer Don Was, the album’s elevated production quality is indeed commendable.
That Gregg Allman passed away May 27 of this year after liver cancer complications only amplifies the record’s elegiac quality. Though he intended to produce the record as a collection of his previously unreleased original songs, his declining health nullified that wish.
Recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where his late-brother Duane worked as a session musician in the 60s, this album’s apparent Rock n’ Roll pedigree clarifies itself through a series of doleful, bluesy cover songs from fellow by-gone (or nearly by-gone) artists.
The album’s opening track, “My Only True Friend,” Allman’s sole original on the album, recalls a lone sunset-riding troubadour carrying listeners through to the refrain, “You and I both know, the road is my only true friend.”
And while its spiritual gravity consists of Allman-inflected covers originally performed by Jerry Garcia (“Black Muddy River), Bob Dylan (“Going Going Gone”), Tim Buckley (“Once I Was”) and Jackson Browne (“Song for Adam”), Allman codifies the album’s palpable twilight tint in recording these songs with the realization of his own mortality in mind.
Lyrics boasting nihilistic fun juxtaposed with world-weariness emphasized by a moaning slide guitar may offer nostalgic rock purists a transportive flashback to the genre’s heyday, which heyday’s instrumentally propelled outlaw sound Southern Blood attempts to recreate.
And perhaps it would succeed if it wouldn’t immediately be interpreted as the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer’s farewell record. Though the album’s rebellious spirit is true, it’s apparent the record can’t deliver Allman’s storied career the justice it deserves without ignoring the context of its place as Gregg Allman’s final rock contribution. In spite of his record’s rich sound, this star has been extinguished.
Listen to the album’s Gregg Allman original track “My Only True Friend” below and pick up the entire album.