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CD Package Salutes the Allman Brothers

June 16, 1989|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

At its peak, the Allman Brothers Band in many ways was the Grateful Dead with fire.

Like Jerry Garcia and company, the Allmans--whose blend of country and blues strains defined Southern Rock in the late '60s and early '70s--frequently engaged in marathon jams on stage, sidestepping visual flash for sheer instrumental authority and grace as it wove an almost magical spell over the audience.

But the band--which framed the superb guitar interaction of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts against one of rock's most accomplished rhythm sections--injected the music with an energy and tension that was more consistently involving than the Dead's.

The Allmans' era--starting with brothers Gregg and Duane's early Allman Joys and Hour Glass bands, but reaching its creative peak with the emergence of the formal Allman Brothers Band in 1969--is saluted in an extraordinary four-disc, 55-track retrospective that will be released Tuesday by PolyGram.

Titled "Dreams," the boxed set will sell for around $55 in CD (it'll also be available in vinyl and cassette). The set was produced by Bill Levenson, who also put together "Crossroads," last year's Grammy-winning Eric Clapton tribute set, and contains an illustrated, 36-page history of the group.

Besides a generous serving of familiar Allman numbers (including "Whipping Post," "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and "Ramblin' Man"), "Dreams" offers more than two hours of rare or previously unreleased demos, alternative takes and remixed material. The latter ranges from an Allman Joys' demo of the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things" to a live, 1973 rendition of "One Way Out."

Though the musical flavor of this tragedy-riddled band shifted at several points (both Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley were killed in separate motorcycle accidents in the early '70s), there is a surprisingly strong continuity of vision. The original passion and drive of the band continued even after leader Duane Allman's death at 24 in 1971, and on into the music offered by Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts when they started their own rival bands.

There have not been half a dozen more musically compelling bands in American rock than the Allmans, and "Dreams" underscores the point. The set commemorates the group's 20th anniversary, a celebration that will include the first U.S. tour since 1980 by Betts, Gregg Allman and drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, the four remaining members of the 1969 edition of the Allmans.

ALSO NEW: Capitol Records' reissue of satirist Stan Freberg's wildly ambitious musical panorama of the country's founding, "Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America," contains two sketches that weren't on the original 1961 package. They are "The Discovery of Electricity" and "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." . . . The sound quality is spotty on Island Records' "Scandal Ska" as most of the 16 selections on this survey of early '60s Jamaican ska were dubbed from records because the master tapes were presumably unavailable. But the package is noteworthy because it contains Bob Marley's first record ("Judge Not") as well as numbers by Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Laurel Aitken. Already available in Britain, the album will be released here July 17.

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