Southern rock legends return to their roots on studio swan song

‘Hittin’ the Note’ represents group’s best work since early ‘70s

Writer’s Note: Gregg Allman died in May; when he left us, he did so with some great music. He had battled health problems for years, but his work both in the studio and on stage remained flawless.

His multiple illnesses caused the Allman Brothers Band to officially disband in 2014 after a series of farewell concerts in New York City. His influence won’t be soon forgotten. As a tribute to Allman and drummer Butch Trucks (who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in January), it’s only fitting that we remember the band’s final studio album, “Hittin’ the Note,” which hit store shelves in 2003.

The album also includes the track “Rockin’ Horse,” which was co-written by late bassist Allen Woody, who received a posthumous songwriting credit three years after his death.

When the Allman Brothers Band released “Hittin’ the Note” in 2003, no one really knew what to expect. The group hadn’t made more than a minor blip on the radar screen since their 1973 classic “Brothers and Sisters,” which was released three decades before the band’s 12th and final studio album.

The Allmans continued to record, but nothing laid to tape made much of an impact. However, they continued to tour and could still sell tickets. Meanwhile, co-founders Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts did solo work and side projects with varying degrees of success.

The final release for the band was shrouded in mystery. It was recorded two years before it was finally released. And when it finally arrived in stores, we discovered that Betts was gone (after he was fired in 2000).

Betts was largely responsible for the group’s hits after both Duane Allman and Berry Oakley were killed in motorcycle wrecks in 1971 and 1972, respectively. But it turned out that the man who wrote classics such as “Blue Sky,” Ramblin’ Man” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” had departed after a feud with Allman and other band members.

His exit would, it seemed, would be to leave a huge void in a band that hadn’t been relevant in 30 years.

But this wasn’t the case, as “Hittin’ the Note” is a trip back in time. While it didn’t garner any air play, it was justifiably showered with critical acclaim.

From the opening track, “Firing Line,” to the LP’s closer “Old Friend (which is an acoustic slide-guitar blues piece which appears to have Warren Haynes and Butch Truck channeling their inner Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson), the album is flawless.

The album is full of guitar jams (both electric and acoustic), southern rock and blues. Gregg Allman and Haynes (who played with Betts before joining the Allman Brothers Band) are the major creative forces on the LP.

The album features the founding nucleus of Gregg, and drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe. Allman plays keyboards and provides vocals on most of the tracks. His famous12-string acoustic guitar, however, is nowhere to be found.

Derek Trucks shares lead guitar duties with Haynes. Together, the duo is awesome. They are not quite Duane and Dickey, but those would be huge shoes to fill. Newcomers Oteil Burbridge (bass) and Marc Quinones (percussion) round out the lineup.

The new members do just fine on this work, which includes a two-time Grammy nominee “Instrumental Illness” and another excellent jam, “Desdemona.” These songs are reminiscent of “Elizabeth Reed” and “Mountain Jam”

Allman and Haynes are both vocally sharp. And an unexpected gem, “Heart of Stone,” is hidden. It’s a remake of an old Rolling Stones classic, but Allman makes the song his own.

In short, “Hittin’ the Note” does exactly what it intends to do: It shows that the oldies are still the goodies. Personnel may change and people get older, but this release is proof that the Allmans, unlike, say, .38 Special or Molly Hatchet, could still do fresh and relevant studio work.

Unfortunately for southern rock fans, it was the final (studio) chapter for the Allman Brothers Band.

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