Gregg Allman lived life loudly and proudly, becoming one of the biggest rock stars of our time with the Allman Brothers Band. Today, his final album, Southern Blood, which was recorded as Allman’s health steadily declined, has been posthumously released, and the legendary musician’s memory and an air of finality permeate each track. While the world honors his life with a series of nationwide celebrations and tributes in his name, including his hometown of Macon, Georgia, naming a day in his honor, Southern Blood offered Allman the opportunity to tell his own story the way he wanted to. Thus, the album is a collection of songs mostly penned by other minds that reflect what was in Allman’s heart and soul during his final months.
From the first strains of the disc opener, “My Only True Friend,” Gregg Allman and longtime fans alike are instantly in their own shared sonic sweet spot. Allman’s voice is noticeably weary but resolute, and the song’s bubbling Gothic southern rock tone evokes the best parts of The Allman Brothers Band. Lyrically, Allman definitively answers the question on the minds of many of his supporters: “Why does Gregg keep booking shows when he keeps falling ill?” You only have to hear him sing to the road and name it his “only true friend” to realize why he couldn’t stay away. It’s especially telling that “My Only True Friend” is the sole track on the album Allman had a hand in penning.
After a quick tour through the bluesy bayous of “Blind Bats And Swamp Rats”, Allman and his stellar backing band play one of the last aces in the deck. On “Out Of Left Field”, listeners get one of the clearest glimpses at the gospel-tinged majesty of Allman at his best. As he sings “Everything is alright”, horns blare, percussion rolls, and the guitars rise and fall, coasting on the rolling tune.
To close out what Gregg Allman surely knew would be his last album, the barrel-house piano blues jam, “Love Like Kerosene”, is one last reminder of what made him an icon to rockers for decades. The last track on Southern Blood, “Song For Adam”, contains the album’s most obvious collaboration, as songwriter Jackson Browne, makes an appearance on the number. Browne pays his homage in both blatant and subtle ways, from crafting a song perfect for Allman to providing harmonies on the song itself, essentially backing the icon while arming him with one last bullet.
The passing of Gregg Allman was, as it is for us all, inescapable. The positive at the heart of the tragedy is that he left so many lives richer. Music can be a means of escape, a tool for healing, and an avenue to share feelings far easier than words could ever allow on their own. Through his songs and countless live performances, Allman worked to elevate the spirit while facing all that life could throw at him. Southern Blood, as a last thought on the human condition, is an emotional parting gift from a man who gave everything he could to us all.
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