Rock legend Gregg Allman had some good things to say about his son Devon Allman‘s musical abilities in the Allman Brothers Band co-founder’s biography My Cross to Bear a few years back, perhaps none more to the point than that Devon “can play the f***ing blues”. Of course, many dads whose kids can play half-decent blues might tend to believe that statement could equally apply to their offspring, but we have to figure that Gregg’s rock star status and own experiences with the blues and bluesmen throughout the decades likely give him a bit more credibility than most other proud papas out there.
While we’ve gotten to see some evidence of Gregg’s comments through Devon’s previous work both solo and as an original member of the Royal Southern Brotherhood, the younger Allman’s latest album Ride or Die (Ruf Records) captures him at his most effective yet, musically as well as vocally.
In addition to songs like the soulful, horn-infused rocker “Find Ourselves” and breezy, acoustic “Live from the Heart” that show the more laid-back southern rock influence of his father, Devon also proves capable of delivering an impressive range of other sounds, from swaying ballads like the regret-laden “Vancouver” and the beautiful, strings-laced “Butterfly Girl” that reminds us of a band we heard a lot in college by the name of The Badlees to hard-rocking numbers like the opening “Say Your Prayers” – with its gritty, almost spitting vocals that come right out on “a bad storm’s comin’, better say your prayers/ you can tell right away, there’s trouble in the air”, and subsequent foreshadowing of the lighter, airier sounds and positive messages you’ll hear later in the album with a chorus that starts on “the sunshine’ll be comin’ back/ well, don’t you go and worry ’bout that” – and the tough, groove-filled “Galaxies” from which the album’s title derives, with its crushing guitar and screaming vocals building to a wild cacophony of sound.
As rocking as the album can be at times, the edginess is never overpowering, making Ride or Die the most natural-sounding project we’ve heard from Allman to-date. That may have something to do with what Devon himself had to offer about the album in its press release: “This album is really about mixing all of my influences…soul, rock, blues, alternative and more.”
The album’s other highlights include the rootsy, wah-filled “Lost” with its tribal, sometimes Frampton-like riffs and tender, longing vocals that nicely help to convey the despair of the track’s lyrics; a funky “Shattered Times” that features some Stevie Ray Vaughan-style playing and is one of only two songs (along with a closing, splendidly haunting cover of The Cure’s “A Night Like This”) not written at least in part by Allman; the groovy, peace-and-love-promoting “Watch What You Say” that reminds us “With all the words we say, and all the games we play/ we must remember in the end we all are one/ Given time and space, bad times fade away/ we must remember that real things come back around” and “Don’t be a slave/ choose your words with love and grace”; a slow, dark-edged look at addiction on “Pleasure and Pain”; and the breezy, vintage rock and doo-wop sounds of an Eddie and the Cruisers-ish “Hold Me”.
Horn great Ron Holloway contributes some nice saxophone throughout the project, with Nashville keyboardist Kevin McKendree (Delbert McClinton) and drummer/co-producer Tom Hambridge also adding to the grooves. As disappointing as it was to see Allman move on from the Royal Southern Brotherhood, the timing of his exit may have been just right, with Ride or Die providing a fulfilling, often radio-friendly, blues-rock experience that proves exactly the claim Gregg made in his book, and Devon coming across like this decade’s Stevie Ray Vaughan.