Of the numerous vintage acts still touring and recording, how many sound as good as they did at their respective peaks? The Stones? Forget it. Skynyrd? Hardly. With the possible exception of Aerosmith, no active classic rock band still resonates with the power and passion of the Allman Brothers. In terms of longevity, the Allmans have defied the odds; an impressive feat considering the tragic losses of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley over three decades ago. Yet, after the band dynamic was so abruptly shattered, and members went their separate ways for an extended period, the passage of time healed some deep wounds. Signed to the Epic label in 1989, and perfectly aligned with the band’s twentieth anniversary, the Allmans were reborn in the ‘90s.
The Epic Years chronicles some of the band’s finest studio and live work from the decade, all of which stacks up admirably against its earlier catalogue of material. Although replacing Duane and Berry was a seemingly impossible task, the ‘90s version of the band boasted an impressive line-up: Greg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, Warren Haynes, Allen Woody, and Marc Quinones. Minor personnel shifts occurred here and there, but this stellar team brought the Allman name back to the forefront, as the group’s partnership with Epic proved to be incredibly fruitful.
Combining old and new, studio and live, The Epic Years covers all bases admirably. Despite the downtime between career incarnations, Greg Allman’s voice is as strong as ever, while Betts’ distinctive playing is complimented, and challenged by Haynes. As with any Allman Brothers effort, the sonic ebbs and flows are exquisite. Opening with the romping “Good Clean Fun”, then segueing into the melodic “Seven Turns”, the album weaves a decade’s worth of hits into one seamless collection. Listen to the bluesy growl of “End of the Line” and think of Skynyrd’s “Comin’ Home”; dive into the extended jam bliss of “Nobody Knows”; revel in the beauty of “Soul Shine”; hearken back to the good ole days with live classics like “Blue Sky” and the acoustic “Midnight Rider”; shed a tear at the mournful “Please Call Home”. If this was not enough, then the sixteen-minute rendition of “Jessica” will bring everyone down to front row center with lighters in hand.
Interestingly, The Epic Years stands up as a tremendous greatest hits album, albeit as a representation of only the second half of the band’s career. More importantly, however, it is a revealing testament to the sheer survivability instinct the Allmans possess. Not only did the band members come back after years apart, but they reformed into something as good as, if not better than, the original. Hard to believe, and tantamount to heresy to some purists, but the proof is in the music.
Although the Allmans were to move on from Epic at the conclusion of the decade, as well as part ways with Betts and lose Woody prematurely, the band persevered and continues to roll through the 21st century with style. The Epic Years provides an eleven track primer for what the band matured into, and lays the groundwork for everything the band continues to be. The album is a genuine treat for the multitude of fans already in touch with the Allmans’ magic, and a special surprise for those just getting aboard the tour bus.