Meadowbrook Farms has become a regular stop on The Allman Brothers' summer tours the last few years and it's easy to see why. In the comparatively cozy confines of this amphitheatre in the woods-considerably smaller than many of the sheds they play-they find an attentive audience willing to appreciate the nuances of their musicianship.
2007's show wasn't without its ups and downs but ended in spectacular fashion. It began much the same way‚ as ABB invoked their collective muse with the grand opening crescendo of Dickey Betts' instrumental from Eat A Peach‚ "Les Brers in A Minor." Thanks in large measure to Derek Trucks‚ who invariably gets the first solo each night of a Brothers show (reaffirming his stance as the star of the band‚ as he is the first bandmember to take the stage as well)‚ the band reached a furious intensity within minutes.
Perhaps it would be unrealistic to expect the band to maintain that pace‚ and surely they did not‚ remaining somewhat static through "Walk On Gilded Splinters" before North Mississippi Allstars' guitarist Luther Dickinson imparted some fire to "Southbound." But the Allmans had begun to lose altitude after that by playing the trite "Maydell‚" begging the question of why they don't select more discriminatingly from their last studio album‚ Hittin' the Note. The overplayed "Soulshine" regained some credibility: as usual‚ when sung by both Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes‚ it becomes an authentic piece of R&B when they trade off.
Not surprisingly‚ there was another cull from the 2003 studio release‚ and the improvisational aspect of ABB began to manifest itself. The light Latin tones of "Desdemona" have become a regular showpiece for the current lineup of ABB‚ and this night was no exception. Yet the song's true distinction is that it marked the point in the evening where the whole band locked in as a unit. Haynes' deeply felt singing of Van Morrison's "And It Stoned Me" might well have constituted a direct comment on what he himself heard onstage moments before‚ and his passion likewise coursed through both his guitar and voice on "Who's Been Talkin'."
The Allmans reached another plateau altogether when Gregg roundly counted off into a burly version of "Statesboro Blues‚" the familiarity of which got a response from both audience and band. The Brothers then ascended to further heights through "Blackhearted Woman‚" where they teased the Dead's "The Other One" perhaps to compensate for a somewhat static drum interlude‚ where even bassist Oteil Burbridge's assumption of Butch Trucks' kit did not add any further embroidery to the rhythmic interplay.
"Jessica" became a thing of beauty all of its own though as‚ led by Derek‚ the group deconstructed the famous Dickey Betts' instrumental like a great jazz band does‚ using the main motifs only as touchpoints to more complex improvisation. It's an approach few bands attempt much less thrive on‚ but the end result was much like what the group achieved the year before on the same stage with "Revival": a total reinvention of the composition as a performance piece.
In that light a two-tune encore-"Melissa" and a rousing "One Way Out" (again featuring the stylings of Luther Dickinson)-truly achieved what the often trite show business custom is designed to be: a capsule recapitulation of the dynamics just displayed in the concert. Meadowbrook Farms may just become the prime outdoor tour stop for the Allman Brothers Band for years to come given how it brings out the best in them as well as those who attend.
North Mississippi Allstars
Opening acts aren't usually attractive enough to lure tailgaters out of the lot or warrant their own review apart from the headliners‚ but the adventurous set offered by The North Mississippi Allstars at Meadowbrook Farm August 3rd may well have prodded their Southern rock brethren Allman Brothers to the heights they achieved later that same evening in this sylvan setting.
Those who came late or chose to party in the lot missed something worth hearing‚ as those in attendance would heartily agree. NMA got a resounding acclamation when they finished their hour onstage. Playing a decidedly different set than that captured on the DVD Keep On Marchin'‚ recorded in support of their album Electric Blue Watermelon‚ the trio constructed a performance heavy on extended jams rather than songs.
The insistent rhythm work of bassist Chris Chew and drummer Cody Dickinson fully illustrated how they rise above the bane of blues-rock and by extension the power trio format. Muscular bass lines mesh with the nonstop motion of the drumming in such a way that the pair interweaves with guitarist Luther Dickinson (brother of Cody‚ sons of famed producer/musician Jim Dickinson).
Luther demonstrated taste‚ imagination and deep soul as a singer and especially as a guitarist. He‚ like the band he fronts onstage (NMA are definitely a three-way alliance)‚ is showing his age in the best possible way apart from the scraggly beard he now sports on his otherwise youthful visage. Later this same evening he brought additional virtues of feeling and technique to bear guesting with The Allmans. But with The AllStars‚ Luther proved he is never at a loss for ideas; he strung together tart‚ fluid lines that laced together R.L. Burnside originals "Po' Black Maddie" and "Skinny Woman‚" even tossing in "Gloria" in a nonchalant way that resembled more of a jazz band on an improvisational roll than a jam band meeting the requirements of the genre.
Chris Chew was featured on two R&B-styled vocal tunes‚ "Drowning on Dry Land" and "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love‚" that sounded out of place within the context of the rest of the set. However‚ two choice covers more than compensated: Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" echoed the folk-rock arrangements the Byrds utilized so effectively in their mid-'60s heyday‚ while Luther's introduction of another influence found him and his peers snaking their way through Hendrix's "Hear My Train A Comin'" with equally heavy impact.