by Mark Kemp
Forty-five years ago, the Allman Brothers Band went acoustic. Sure, Idlewild South was only the group’s second album, but from Duane Allman’s joyous strumming that kick-starts “Revival” to his ominous acoustic riff that drives the mournful “Midnight Rider,” the record was quite a departure from the sustained scorch of raw electric blues on the band’s 1969 self-titled debut.
Not that Idlewild South is bereft of searing electric blues. “Don’t Keep Me Wondering” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” burn as hot as anything on the first album, and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” the song that brought second guitarist Dickey Betts into the limelight, is a sweet, fluid, Latin-flavored, instrumental electric-guitar classic. But Idlewild South’s gentle acoustic guitars, and such piano-based songs as “Please Call Home,” showed a side of the Allmans that indicated they were more than just blues-rock shredders.
Some of that acoustic ambiance—particularly in the gospel-tinged “Revival,” with its “love is everywhere” lyrics—may have come from the setting of many of the rehearsals: a cabin just west of the band’s home base of Macon, Georgia, dubbed Idlewild South, after Idlewild Airport (now JFK) in New York City.
In the liner notes to the 45th anniversary expanded reissue, Allmans expert John Lynskey quotes the late bassist Berry Oakley’s wife, Linda, recalling a party during the holidays just before the recording sessions: “We all sat around, with a fire going in the fireplace, and at midnight we all got in a circle, arms locked together, and we sang ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken.’ That was a pivotal moment, a testament of love.”
Universal Music’s expanded versions of Idlewild South come in the now-familiar three configurations: a single-CD basic remastered edition, a two-CD deluxe edition that adds another 12 songs, and a super-duper deluxe package that adds 14 tracks and Blu-ray sound. Most of the extra tracks are remastered versions of live recordings already available on the official bootleg Live at Ludlow Garage: 1970 released in 1990, but there also are outtakes or alternate studio versions of “Statesboro Blues,” “One More Ride,” “Elizabeth Reed,” “Midnight Rider,” and “Revival.”
The alternate mix of “Midnight Rider” will be of special interest to acoustic guitar fans. The Allmans recorded the version that appeared on the original album in Macon in February 1970, but worked on it again in March at Criteria Studios in Miami. The latter version, Lynskey writes in the liners, included “a new vocal track from Gregg, strong harmonies from Duane and Berry, as well as an acoustic slide part by Duane and a funky little outro.”
The slide riffs are amazing to hear, but for an album so important for its acoustic textures, one would have hoped for even more of the Allmans’ acoustic flirtations.
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Perhaps no more exist, but it’s a shame there’s so much remastered electric music from an already-available source of great live performances and so few extras revealing the subtle acoustic brush strokes that distinguish Idlewild South.
Listen to the alternate mix of “Midnight Rider”: