For the record: New releases for the week

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Records are rated on a scale of one (awful) to four (classic) stars:


Duane Allman 'Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective

4 stars = Outstanding
Ratings explained

Hearing the original Allman Brothers Band live was a privilege, one I enjoyed when it played the old Syria Mosque in Oakland on Super Bowl Sunday, Jan. 17, 1971. Unbelievable as it seems, the Allmans and Taj Mahal opened for headliner Little Richard. While the entire band was magnificent, hearing the twin guitar synergy of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts was unforgettable (a recording of that show is on my "Get Rhythm" blog).

Nearly 42 years after Duane died in a Georgia motorcycle mishap, the Allman Brothers roll on and Duane Allman's guitar legacy lives through their records, his impact on younger guitarists and his productive three-year legacy as a session musician. His work with Eric Clapton on the Derek & The Dominos album "Layla" was only part of it. That fluent, edgy slide, acoustic and amplified, slide and otherwise graced many noteworthy R&B, rock and pop recordings the bulk featured on this limited-edition, seven CD, 129 song collection spanning 1965-71.

Disc one begins with three unreleased songs showcasing the teenage Allman siblings playing cocky R&B covers with their Florida band the Escorts. The Yardbirds clearly inspired the sound and repertoire ("Shapes of Things" "Lost Woman") of their 1966-68 band the Allman Joys. Their later bands Hour Glass and 31st of February reflected a broader scope encompassing the Beatles, blues, R&B and folk tunes.

Things get interesting on disc two, focusing on Duane's 1968-70 R&B studio work in Muscle Shoals, Memphis and New York. He provided slicing, articulate lead and slide guitar accompaniment behind Clarence Carter on "The Road of Love" and Arthur Conley on "That Can't Be My Baby" and became a searing foil to Aretha Franklin's vocal on the Band's "The Weight." Behind King Curtis' "Hey Joe" he added raw, Jimi Hendrix-flavored riffs.

Duane's firey passion expanded accompanying Chicago blues singer-guitarist Otis Rush and on Boz Scaggs' 13-minute blues "Loan Me a Dime," from his first solo album. He cut explosive swaths on performances by bluesman John Hammond and rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins. On Johnny Jenkins' recording of Muddy Waters' "Rollin' Stone," he reconciles Waters' famous slide guitar riffs with his own ideas. Duane's three 1969 solos reflect a softer vocal touch than his brother Gregg.

Naturally, the Allman Brothers are well-represented, spanning their first four albums and more. "Black Hearted Woman," "Midnight Rider" and "Whipping Post" are among the tracks, right up to the acoustic "Little Martha," recorded in October 1971, the month Duane died. Beyond the immortal title song, the "Layla" tracks include "Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad" and the bluesier "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" and acoustic "Mean Old World."

The brothers' surging popularity didn't deter Duane's continuing studio work. He spiced up Laura Nyro's "Beads of Sweat" and Sam (The Sham) Samudio's bluegrassy "Me and Bobby McGee" from his post-Pharoahs solo album. He was equally at home behind jazz flautist Herbie Mann on "Push Push" and played stunning acoustic slide on acoustic performances by Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett.

The collection was spearheaded by Duane's daughter Galadrielle, who contributed an essay to the booklet, balanced by Scott Schinder's biography and complete information for each track. The physical box is a plush-lined affair similar to a guitar case. Each CD is packaged in paper envelopes resembling guitar string packs. Two earlier Allman anthologies covered some of this material, but this magnificently packaged collection definitively chronicles his musical saga in a way no digital download could match.

-- Rich Kienzle, for the Post-Gazette

Kurt Vile 'Wakin' on a Pretty Daze' (Matador)

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

"Making music is easy ... watch me," Kurt Vile drawls on "Was All Talk," the third track of this "Pretty Daze." The Philly rocker makes it sound that way at least, engulfing the listener in a marijuana fog of gorgeous flowing guitars, organ and Velvet-y stoned-out vocals about his day-dreamy state of mind.

He is in no hurry to get anywhere, letting these long, lo-fi songs swirl around at their leisure. This is mellow slacker rock at its prettiest, complete with a shocking revelation on the 10-minute finale "Goldtone": "Sometimes when I get into my zone/You think I was stoned/but I never, as they say, touch the stuff/I might be adrift/but I'm still alert." The proof perhaps is five fine albums in six years.

-- Scott Mervis



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