The Allman Brothers Band's Archival Series, known to some as the Allman Brothers Brand series, is a set of CDs that are only sold at the band's live shows, and via their website, www.hittinthenote.com (Note: These CDs are cheaper at the website than at the shows!). After some time, Vol. 1 was released to commercial music stores, but the remaining volumes including the brand new fifth volume continue to be strictly in-house Allman Brothers merchandise.
Just so you know who you're dealing with here, two nights ago when I bought the new release at the Beacon, I was attending my 22nd Allman Brothers concert; by the time you read this, I'll have done #'s 23 & 24 as well. I own 51 discs of officially released Allman Brothers live recordings and another two dozen or so unofficial discs. I have a pretty good handle on what this band is about live, and when their live releases truly go above and beyond the rest of the stuff that's out there. So let's take a look at what the Archival Series has to offer.
Each of the five volumes offers something a little different, but one thing they all offer is a glimpse of the Allman Brothers Band on a single day. Almost all of the regular release Allman Brothers live albums are live compilations where the tracks may seem like they're all from one show, but are actually mixed together from various nights; even the famous, "At Fillmore East" was recorded over several nights. To be fair, some of these Archival releases are chopped up a little also, encompassing songs from different sets (or different shows if the band played two in one day) but they all give you a taste of what the band was up to on one day at one place.
The first volume was recorded on December 13th, 1970 at American University in Washington D.C. This is chronologically the oldest recording in the series and obviously features the original lineup of the band (Gregg and Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley, Jaimoe & Butch Trucks). The liner notes mention that the band played two shows that night but gives no mention of which show this single disc release represents. They also mention that the 1,000 seat auditorium was half empty for both shows, even with people staying for a double dose&.the tickets were $3.00. This show represents the infancy of a band that these days sells out the 4,000 seat Beacon Theater fifteen nights in a row at $100 a ticket.
Volume two comes to us from SUNY College in Stonybook, NY. It was recorded on September 9, 1971. Some of you may understand the significance of this time period in Allman Brothers history. This show was recorded just over a month before the tragic death of guitarist Duane Allman. It is the closest performance to his demise that has ever been released, and it shows the original lineup of the band at it's absolute peak. This one blows away the Fillmore, and every other release I've heard from the original era. The highlight of the two-disc set is a truly special version of "Blue Sky." Why is it special? It's the only live version of the song ever released featuring Duane Allman on guitar.
The next release in the series features a unique, lineup of the band. In almost 40 years as a band, the Allman Brothers have gone through roughly a dozen lineup changes. The lineup on this release began immediately after Duane's death, and lasted less than a year. It was the only time in the band's history that they were a quintet, and has never been heard on CD before. This 2-disc set was recorded February 11th, 1972 in Macon, GA, the band's home town. What's most amazing about the show, is what I've always found most amazing about the band&they've lost their leader, but they don't lose a step&they evolve. Dickey Betts emerges as the guitar giant that no one knew he was while he stood next to Duane, and the band tears the house down.
Volume four represents the second great lineup of the Allman Brothers Band. In the fall of 1971 the Allman Brothers gained a new member in keyboardist Chuck Leavell, and lost another founder with the death of bassist Berry Oakley, who died in a motorcycle crash eerily similar to the one that took Duane a year earlier. Berry was replaced by Lamar Williams. It was this lineup of the band that enjoyed the most commercial success in Allman Brothers history. That's evidenced by the venue they're playing for this release. This is no college or theater, this concert, recorded on May 1st 1973 is from Uniondale, NY's Nassau Coliseum, which seats 15,000.&and it was the second of two sold out shows. This set, also two discs, brings us two of the bands biggest hits which are not present elsewhere in the Archival Series, "Jessica" and "Rambling Man," and it's capped off with 31 minutes of "Mountain Jam" which also shows up nowhere else in the series to date.
The newest release in the series goes back to the original lineup and falls chronologically inbetween Volumes 1 & 2. It was recorded at the Boston Common on August 17, 1971. Also, we're back to a single disc for the first time since volume one. Quite frankly, this is the most disappointing release in the series. Don't get me wrong, the music is fantastic. The reason it's disappointing is that there's nothing really unique about the show. Historically speaking it's about the same as Volume 2, only without the poignancy of being so close to Duane's death. Musically speaking, it's almost identical to Volume 1 with five out of seven songs in common&.including "Statesboro Blues," "Trouble No More" and "Don't Keep Me Wondering" which open both discs in that order (as they do two other live discs already available in stores), and "Whippin' Post" which closes both discs. Yes, the versions are slightly different - "You Don't Love Me" is eleven minutes longer on the new release, and "Whippin' Post" is two minutes shorter, but they're not quite different enough to justify an entire separate release, especially when the readily available, hugely popular "At Fillmore East" already covers this material so well. With so many shows to choose from, there's a redundancy with this release that doesn't quite sit right.
There are a few different ways the band could have gone for the fifth release in their Archival Series, and I had a few thoughts on what I'd like to see in future volumes. At the very least, if you're going to stick with the really early stuff, please try to give us a little variety&the same songs in the same order from the same time period isn't going to get $20 bucks from me a third time. What would be more satisfying than just more song/set variety would be something from a different era. The Allman Brothers have been around for 38 years and counting, and thus far all of the archival releases come from a span of less than two and a half years. Open it up a little guys! There's tons to choose from.
How about something from the Dan Toler era in the late 70's early 80's? Currently, there is no live material available from that era at all on CD. I've seen Dan and Dickey play together and they're great. There must be something worth while in the tapes from that time period.
How about one of the rare one-off reunion shows from the eighties before the full-scale reunion got started?
How about the night Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist Zakk Wylde sat in with the band while Dickey was in jail? I've heard that one&it's totally unique-sounding and well worth a remastering.
Lastly, how about some more of what I consider possibly the best lineup in the band's history (Even better than the original? Maybe!) Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes, Marc Quinones, and the late Allen Woody&the two compilation style CDs available of this lineup (An Evening with The Allman Brothers Band 1st and 2nd Set) are not nearly enough! And with Great Woods, the Horde Festival and the first years of the annual Beacon run, there's thousands of hours of tapes to choose from.
Well, enough of my hopes and dreams.
As the Archival series stands now, it is excellent, even with the new disc not adding much to the picture. I would say that the middle three volumes (all 2-disc sets) are each unique both historically and musically, and should be in the collection of any serious Allman Brothers fan. Volumes one and five are not as essential, and if you're not a collector like me then you're better off buying the 2-disc expanded edition of the Fillmore Concerts in your local record store and calling it a day&that'll cost you less and give you more.