Dickey Betts - lead vocals, guitar; Jimmy Hall - lead vocals, harmonica, sax; Chuck Leavell - piano, keyboards, vocals; Danny Parks - violin, vocals; David "Rook" Goldflies - bass, vocals; Butch Trucks - drums and percussion; Guest: David Allan Coe - vocals; Guest: Warren Haynes - guitar; Guest: Mike Lawler - organ
Following several years of solo projects, a new configuration of the Allman Brothers Band reformed in 1978. Chuck Leavell and Lamar Williams, who had rejuvenated the group following the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, were now committed to their own band, Sea Level, so the Allmans brought in Dan Toler on second guitar and David "Rook" Goldflies on bass. This new lineup was well received by fans and released the promising album, Enlightened Rogues to generally enthusiastic response. However, the next few years would again be plagued with problems and turmoil, beginning with the collapse of their label, Capricorn Records, the following year. The band signed with Arista Records and released Reach For The Sky in 1980 and Brothers of the Road in 1981, but neither faired well. Financial trouble and inner turmoil that resulted in the firing of founding member Jaimoe all took its toll and the group again split up in 1982. Gregg formed the Gregg Allman Band with Dan Toler and his brother Frankie on drums and began touring small venues and clubs. Dickey Betts also formed a new band, recruiting the soulful vocalist and sax player from Wet Willie, Jimmy Hall as co-leader. They also convinced Chuck Leavell, David Goldflies, and Butch Trucks to join, forming the Betts, Hall, Leavell, and Trucks Band (aka BHLT). This proved to be an inspired grouping and, with fiddle player Danny Parks fleshing out the lineup, they too took to the road. Although they never pursued a record deal, this band was a formidable outfit on stage. With a repertoire culled from Betts work in the ABB, Jimmy Hall's recent solo album material from Cadillac Tracks and several choice covers, BHLT delivered a driving blues-rock sound that featured country twang and jazzy instrumentals in equal measure and developed a unique sound that was quite impressive.
This BHLT performance, recorded outdoors at Nashville's Hermitage Landing, captures the group in full flight. The set begins with tight arrangements on several high-energy songs before they begin stretching out on the more improvisational numbers, much like the approach of the Allman Brothers Band. The set kicks off with a delightful take on the R&B flavored "Nothing You Can Do." This immediately shows this group in a most positive light, featuring Betts and Hall alternating lead vocals and trading licks on guitar and sax. Hall's vocals are supremely soulful and are a key element in elevating this group well beyond a Southern Rock jam band. His sax solo is equally impressive, inspiring Betts solo to follow. The next song, "I Need Somebody Bad Tonight" had just been written at the time and is primarily a showcase for Hall's vocals. Possibly intended as a song with commercial single potential, this features tasteful playing from all concerned but seems somewhat out of place amidst the other material. The band really begins hitting their stride on the next song, "Pick A Little Boogie." Like the title implies, this is a high-energy country boogie number with Betts and Hall harmonizing on vocals and featuring plenty of hot picking. Fiddle player Danny Parks also stands out here, as does Chuck Leavell, who adds great boogie-woogie piano throughout.
Betts' signature anthem, "Ramblin' Man," is next and the band brings out two special guests to help out, singer David Allen Coe and guitarist Warren Haynes, who was a member of Coe's band at the time. This is of course notable for featuring Betts and Haynes on stage together well before they would team up again in the Allman Brothers, but this is an inspired performance all around, featuring a jet-propelled jam sequence and many fine solos. Another rarity follows with "Lorraine," a Jimmy Hall rocker that has Betts switching to slide guitar, Hall blowing a great harp solo, and phenomenal piano work from Leavell.
The most adventurous performances are saved for last, beginning with the title cut from Jimmy Hall's 1982 solo album, Cadillac Tracks. David Goldflies kicks this one off with a strong walking bass line that leads into a swinging jazzy arrangement of this storytelling number. Hall's sax and Park's violin work together here to create a big band-style horn section sound. Often playing in unison, they accentuate the arrangement with punchiness much like a bigger horn section. This extended number has a serious bluesy groove a la Mose Allison and includes a great call and response section between Hall's scat-style vocals and Park's fiddle licks that is quite compelling. It eventually veers off into a swinging jam that allows Parks to take flight followed by a beautifully fluid piano solo from Leavell. Following the concluding verse from Hall and a brief drum break from Trucks, they bring it to a climactic close.
The recording concludes with a unique take on Betts' infectious instrumental, "Jessica." Betts invites keyboard player Mike Lawler on stage who takes over on organ, freeing up Leavell to concentrate on piano. Together these musicians create a huge sound, again utilizing Hall's sax and Parks violin as a horn section, punching up the arrangement considerably and propelling the others into the stratosphere. Hall's sax also serves as a foil for Betts' guitar as they harmonize and play off each other. Unfortunately, Betts' guitar channel was experiencing technical problems during this last number, intermittently cutting in and out. Still, plenty of outstanding musicianship is apparent here, including standout solos from Leavell and Parks, and this remains a joyous celebratory ending to a very impressive performance.
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