Old Friend: The Allman Brothers Band’s Hittin’ The Note Turns 20
The band’s last studio album ensured their legacy lived on
Released on March 18, 2003, Hittin’ The Note, the twelfth and final studio album by the Allman Brothers Band, had all the elements needed to stay true to its title.
Despite the fact that they remained a well-regarded ensemble, the shadow of earlier successes — Idlewild South, Eat a Peach and their classic live At Fillmore East album in particular — continued to dominate the group’s fabled legacy. It was, after all, the product of a group in transition, one that was still shaking off the shadow of the the late Duane Allman while making room for the newer players in their fold — guitarist Warren Haynes, the young guitar prodigy Derek Trucks and bassist Oteil Burbridge. It also marked the absence of co-founder Dickey Betts, whose role as Duane’s guitar foil had found him operating at center stage until his solo ambitions hastened his departure.
Consequently, Hittin’ The Note ought not be judged against the work of the band’s earlier incarnation. That said, it’s still an excellent album in its own right, an impressive accomplishment considering the fact that it’s sandwiched between two live albums American University 12/13/70 and Live at the Beacon Theater, which, by tradition, always offered the best showcase of the band’s formidable talents. Yet while the songs might not have been deemed extraordinary in terms of their catalog overall — there’s no “Whipping Post” or “One Way Out” here — they did prove indicative of a band that was clearly on a rebound and ready to establish a new standard for themselves.
As for the album itself, “Who To Believe,” “Rockin’ Horse,” “Maydell” and “Firing Line” are fine blues rockers, well in keeping with the Allmans’ classic template. “High Cost of Low Living” shines as another stand-out as well, with guitar riffs that mine a certain familiarity factor that brings memories of “Blue Sky” and “Dreams.” So too, “Desdemona” shines as a classic blues rock ballad that could be considered among the best of its breed as far as the Allmans’ catalog is concerned.
Likewise, the track “Instrumental Illness” struck another proverbial high note, as evidenced by the fact that it garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
The album also found the band branching out, albeit to some generally agreeable turf, courtesy of covers of the Rolling Stones’ stand-by “Heart of Stone” and the bluesy stand-by “Woman Across the Water.” Haynes also contributes several songs, reestablishing a predominant presence in the process. His co-write with Gregg Allman, “Old Friend,” closes the album, with him and Derek Trucks soloing on acoustic guitars sans any other member of the band. In addition, the Haynes and Allman co-write, the telling ballad “Old Before My Time,” makes for another of the album’s stand-out selections.
Well into their fourth decade, Hittin’ The Note proved to be a perfect swan song for a band whose reputation continues to prosper through its ongoing series of archival live albums.
Listening to this album 20 years later, it is easy to recognize just how strongly that legacy lives on in this fine studio finale.
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