All­man’s fi­nal mu­sic ‘ob­vi­ous farewell’

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY JEFF KAROUB

Only a tight cir­cle of fam­ily and friends knew Gregg All­man had been di­ag­nosed with liver can­cer a sec­ond time and wouldn’t sur­vive.

With lim­ited time, the beloved mu­si­cian and co-founder of the All­man Broth­ers Band set a course: He would re­turn to Mus­cle Shoals, Ala., where his band be­gan, and make a mu­si­cal state­ment that would, ac­cord­ing to those in­ti­mately in­volved in his fi­nal stu­dio al­bum, reach back, re­solve past with present and re­veal his essence.

“It re­ally cap­tures who Gregg is,’’ said Don Was, pro­ducer of the “South­ern Blood’’ al­bum that is set for re­lease on Sept. 8. “I think there was a tacit un­der­stand­ing that this al­bum was an at­tempt to tie up the loose ends of his life.’’

All­man, who died May 27 at age 69, spent a dozen days in March 2016 in the leg­endary Fame Stu­dios record­ing the 10 songs that would com­prise “South­ern Blood.’’ All­man and his solo band cut two songs daily, but be­cause of his health, ses­sions lasted only a few hours, Was said.

While the ses­sions were quick — recorded live, of­ten in a take or two — Was said All­man was “fully present’’ and “at the peak of his in­ter­pre­tive pow­ers.’’ He co-wrote one song, the aching lead-off track ti­tled, “My Only True Friend,’’ but spent years de­cid­ing what to record.

The choices were no ac­ci­dent: There’s Bob Dy­lan’s “Go­ing, Go­ing, Gone,’’ Tim Buck­ley’s “Once I Was’’ and Jack­son Browne’s “Song for Adam.’’ The lat­ter fea­tures the songwriter and All­man’s old friend on har­mony vo­cal. Was said the song, about a friend of Browne’s who died while moun­tain climb­ing, “struck a nerve with Gregg.’’

“I know it al­ways re­minded him of Duane,’’ said Was, re­fer­ring to All­man’s gui­tar-play­ing brother, who died in a mo­tor­cy­cle crash in 1971 as the All­mans were reach­ing star­dom.

When it came to record­ing the third verse, All­man choked up at the lyric,

“You can hear his voice crack ... he never got the last two lines out,’’ Was said. There was talk of fix­ing it some­how, pos­si­bly hav­ing Browne de­liver the line, but the song was among the mixes All­man ap­proved the night be­fore he died.

“To me, it’s the linch­pin emo­tional mo­ment of the al­bum — that’s his exit,’’ said Was, who first saw the All­man Broth­ers in his na­tive Detroit in 1971 and won­dered, “How does this blond kid sound like a 60-yearold blues guy?’’

The high point for Scott Shar­rard, All­man’s mu­sic di­rec­tor and gui­tarist, was co-writ­ing “My Only True Friend.’’ Shar­rard said he was stay­ing at All­man’s home and work­ing on songs a few years ago when he “had a vivid dream where Gregg was talking to Duane.’’ The gui­tarist re­mem­bered the words and started work­ing on a song he en­vi­sioned “as a con­ver­sa­tion across the uni­verse be­tween Duane and Gregg.’’

“It’s an ob­vi­ous farewell to the world,’’ said Shar­rard. “I never told Gregg the story ... but he re­al­ized in the back of his mind what the song was about.’’


In this Nov. 9, 2011 file photo, singer Gregg All­man ar­rives at the 45th an­nual CMA Awards in Nash­ville, Tenn. All­man’s last al­bum, “South­ern Blood,” will be re­leased in Septem­ber.

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