Guitarist Devon Allman makes music that is inspired by the blues...and that's about all he has in common with his famous father, Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. Musically best described as "Muddy Waters meets Sun Ra," the younger Allman and his band Honeytribe find their inspiration in a wealth of influences, from Memphis soul and the guitar-driven blues-rock of the 1970s to jazz and R&B. As shown by the band's sophomore effort, Space Ages Blues, Allman and crew deliver cheap rock 'n' roll thrills with virtuoso instrumentation and a jam band aesthetic and love for the music.
Devon Allman's Honeytribe's Space Age Blues
Space Age Blues opens with "Could Get Dangerous," a choogling blues-rock rave-up with a funky rhythm and Allman's bluesy, razor-sharp guitar licks. Allman bud Huey Lewis, he of 1980s skinny-tie pop-rockers the News, lays down some downright blistering harp blasts while Allman's soulful vocals are supported by a monster bass line courtesy of the Honeytribe's George Potsos, and strong drumming from the band's Gabriel Strange. The song itself sounds like an inspired cross between a 1970s-era R&B/funk jam and a blues-infused rocker from a decade earlier, which is an altogether good thing.
Ron Holloway's throwback saxplay provides the title track with a smothering ambiance that grows as washes of guitar, bass, and drum kick in before Allman's pinpoint fretwork and mournful vocals take the song elsewhere altogether. While "Space Age Blues" is built on the most fragile of blues frameworks, you'll hear elements of jazz, 1990s-era jam band instrumentation, and a bit, perhaps, of Robin Trower-styled six-string surgery. Allman achieve the perfect tone here, crossing decades with a gorgeous, emotional, and powerful blend of music and voice.
Stevie Wonder's Sir Duke
Allman takes on Stevie Wonder's spry "Sir Duke" as the album's lone cover, the Honeytribe fozzing up the song with an energetic performance that plays it mostly straight. While Allman's voice is gruffer, less sweet and soulful than Wonder's vocals, he does the song right, and his gymnastic fretwork recreates the funky underpinning inherent to the original version. While most blues-rockers prefer to cover "Superstition" or "Living In The City," Allman defies expectations and successfully puts his personal fingerprint on one of Wonder's more jazzy compositions.
The instrumental "Bleu Est le Vide," inspired by "the beauty and culture of France," is yet another departure, Allman displaying his six-string skills with this beautiful, subdued performance that stimulates the senses with hints of folk, jazz, blues, and rock and evokes memories of guitarists like Sandy Bull and Roy Buchanan. Incorporating a little fine piano with his scorching fretwork, "New Pet Monkey" is a mid-tempo rocker with bluesy intent and a rock 'n' roll heart, while "I'm Ready" is a rollicking Texas blues excursion similar to early ZZ Top, with plenty o' Lone Star State funk, scrapping sizzling guitar, and Rio Grande mud in the grooves. "Take Me To The Bridge" is just a scorching blues-rock wildfire with raging guitars, massive drumbeats, and a rhythmic foundation deep enough to support a skyscraper.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Devon Allman isn't quite the singer that his father is, but on the other hand, he makes up for it by being twice the instrumentalist. While the younger Allman's vox drop somewhere in the rockin' soulspace between Gregg Allman and Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, his stellar guitarwork takes a backseat to nobody. Full of great tone and body, Allman's fretwork incorporates the spirit and influence of instrumental geniuses like Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis, and blues-leaning rockers like Billy Gibbons and Johnny Winter in the creation of something unique and exciting.
Space Age Blues isn't your typical blues-rock album, Devon Allman's Honeytribe infusing these songs with high-octane performances that remind of the Black Crowes and Blues Traveler, but taking it one step further, positioning blues-rock for a new decade and new century that still places a premium on six-string talents, and rewarding an artistic sense of adventure. Devon Allman's Honeytribe is making exhilarating, edgy music that is years ahead of its time. By the time the rest of us catch up, no doubt Allman and his merry pranksters will be making a different sort of trouble. In the here and now, however, if you like blues and you like rock, it's well worth your time to check out Space Age Blues. (Provogue Records, released October 26, 2010)
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