At the age of 63, Gregg Allman has been through enough trials and ordeals to make even a professional blues musician feel inadequate, filled with petty problems. As a founding member of the ’70s Allman Brother’s Band, he has dealt with the stereotypical rock star battle with drugs and has struggled through six divorces, including a famous separation from Cher after a four-year stint. His fellow bandmates Berry Oakley and brother Duane Allman died at age 24 in motorcycle accidents (eerily, just blocks apart). In 2007, Gregg was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, and earlier this year he underwent a liver transplant. Yet, through the illness, deaths and personal problems, he found the time and the perseverance to concentrate his troubles into a true-to-heart blues album.

Gregg Allman

Low Country Blues
Rounder

Low Country Blues is a compilation of 11 covers (including songs originally composed by Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Skip James), along with one written by Gregg Allman himself. None of them are fancy or overly showy, as one might expect from a rock god-turned-blues veteran. There is a pure grit and an honest vulnerability to his approach that takes what was once just a good voice and makes it the weapon of a great singer. At times, Allman seems a little in over his head (like in R&B ballad “Please Accept My Love”), but it’s nice to see him stray outside of his comfort zone. And when he strikes the right emotional chord, even the least empathetic of listeners can feel the suffering that emanates from the southerner’s classic blues vocals.

From the first staggered strums of guitar on the cover of Sleepy John Estes’s “Floating Bridge,” Allman lets you know that Low Country Blues is exactly that — the blues courtesy of the Deep South. While the instruments generally remain constant throughout the album (drums, guitar and piano, with the occasional horns and organ), it’s Allman who conforms his voice to match the atmosphere of the song. “Little by Little” harkens back to the early days of rock, with swinging piano and a train-engine rhythm — both of which Allman matches stride for stride. Yet, in the ensuing “Devil Got My Woman,” Allman is right back with the patented torment that suits the similarly tortured instrumentation.

Midway through the album, Allman tackles Bobby Bland’s “Blind Man,” the ultimate emotional test for any musician. Though Allman seems to hold back for the first minute, he cuts loose once the music picks up and gives the listener the chance to hear a singer at his best. The following song, “Just Another Rider,” feels like it would fit properly in the Allman Brother’s Band catalogue, but it also seems to find a niche in Low Country Blues. Co-written by Gregg Allman and bandmate Warren Haynes, it’s a clever inclusion of classic Allman Brothers in Gregg’s solo endeavor.

Allman seems to feel right at home in the heartbreak and melancholy of a genre with roots that date back almost to the era of his own birth. His latest album leads to the notion that he has finally found an effort in which to pour his troubles. In Low Country Blues, Allman has revived a sound that has limped along since its glory days, much in the same way he has revived his own solo career. Amid all his troubles, Gregg Allman has created something for both himself and his listeners to fall back on during tough times.

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