Gregg Allman - No Stranger To The Dark: The Best Of Gregg Allman album review
Patchy solo picks, from ’85 to ’98
The title couldn’t be truer of Gregg Allman’s troubled, casualty-strewn, illness-ravaged life. His work outside the Allman Brothers Band has, though, often struggled to express this stoic man’s pain.
The 70s celebrity years, when he was married to Cher, had seen his dignity crash. I’m No Angel and Just Before The Bullets Fly, the late-80s albums that form the bulk of this 2002 best-of, showed a quieter malaise, as his addictions often left him numb and detached, allowing others to decide his direction. Though the period covered brackets the Allmans’ triumphant 1989 US comeback, he’s creatively barely there at times. Only when he plays the R&B of his youth does he find his way back.
Allman holed up in a Malibu beach hut to collaborate with songwriter Tony Colton on 1987’s I’m No Angel. “He had a drug habit that made Keith Richards look like a health freak, but you couldn’t get a bad song past him in a coma,” Colton later claimed.
The title track, a surprise US hit, suggests otherwise, playing on Allman’s outlaw image in lame terms. ‘Let me show you my tattoo,’ he suggests. ‘Let me drive you crazy...’ The stiff, synthetic music carbon-dates it, like the drums, synths and sax solo on Evidence Of Love, sounding ready for a Miami Vice montage even before Don Johnson’s guest vocal.
Demons is a damning autobiography: ‘All alone in a sold-out crowd/He can always buy cheap thrills with his money/This world of silence is getting so damn loud.’ Like much of 1988’s Just Before the Bullets Fly, there’s more roadhouse attack to the music, Allman hard-riffing on the Hammond.
1997’s aptly titled Searching For Simplicity then sees him sink fully back into his sources. The Ray Charles favourite I’ve Got News For You sounds like a lost early-60s recording, Allman’s vocal rough and strong, cushioned by R&B brass and sultry swing.
Dark End Of The Street is a gravel-throated, country-soul croon, with stinging guitars and Allman’s prayerful Hammond. A live version of Jackson Browne’s These Days, first recorded by Allman in 1973, becomes his dignified response to all the fuck-ups. ‘Please don’t confront me with my failures,’ he sings, both wounded and noble. ‘I’m aware of them.’