Devon Allman

Ragged & Dirty

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After two albums with his jam band Honeytribe and co-founding the blues rock supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood, Devon Allman issued a fine solo album in 2013 with Turquoise. While that record focused on his skills as a songwriter as much as it did his considerable ability as a guitarist, Ragged & Dirty changes up the game again by heading north to the wellspring of electric blues: Chicago. Produced by noted drummer, songwriter, and arranger Tom Hambridge -- who has worked with everyone from Joe Louis Walker and Susan Tedeschi to George Thorogood and Johnny Winter -- this is not a set of hard boogie blooooooz numbers, but a skilled, nuanced, yet kinetic reflection on the murky terrain where Chicago's signature electric style meets vintage R&B and rock. Allman the guitar slinger is back in a big way here, fronting a small ensemble that includes the drummer, bassist Felton Crews, B-3 player Marty Sammon, and guitarist Giles Cory. Hambridge contributed four excellent tunes to the set, Allman five, and there are three choice covers. The latter include a burning read of the title track (a funky blues scorcher by Luther Allison off his 1972 Motown set, Bad News Is Coming), an emotionally resonant reading of the Spinners' hit, "I'll Be Around" -- which showcases Allman's considerable gifts as a singer -- and a poignant, thoroughly electrified take on Otis Taylor's "Ten Million Slaves." There's a hint of the Allman Brothers Band's blues attack on Hambridge's "Can't Lose 'Em All," with Cory twinning the lead guitar line. "Midnight Lake Michigan" is a long, slow instrumental where Allman gets to show off his chops, his phrasing purposely reflecting the influences of Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix. His own "Traveling" gives free play to his nasty, funky wah-wah pedal and melds Southern rock to Windy City soul blues, while "Blackjack Heart Attack" is a burning rocker whose gritty vamps and stinging leads are adorned by careening B-3 and bass fills. Ragged & Dirty is the first time in Allman's recording career that all of his strengths have been on full display. Hambridge's production is polished, yet never rounds off the edges; sounds and dynamics encounter one another spontaneously and naturally. Allman is inspired; he reveals the myriad aspects of his musical persona -- so full of contrasting yet complementary voices -- free expression, resulting in the finest thing he's ever put his name on.

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