Devon Allman w/ The Mike Crandall Band
Saturday December 8, 2012 @ 8:00 PM
“Science fiction blues” isn’t a genre you’ll find in an illustrated history of rock and roll. At least not yet. But Devon Allman and his group Honeytribe make a case for its inclusion with their ground-breaking new album Space Age Blues.
“I had a concept that you could simplify as ‘Darth Vader meets B.B. King,’ ” the guitar-slinging scion of one of rock’s royal families shares. “Even before I’d written the first song, I decided I wanted to make a statement about the way we live. I love blues and I’m a sci-fi geek, so I imagined a marriage of the two: music with a backbone that’s solid and soulful, lyrics that talk about where we’re at and where we’re heading, and a sprinkling of cosmic dust — colorful, creative sounds — on top of everything.”
That description gets right to the heart of Space Age Blues’ 11 songs. Allman, bassist George Potsos and drummer Gabriel Strange have created a portrait of our tech-mad era, an age moving in hyper drive that occasionally challenges our very humanity.
“It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by the constant barrage of information that rushes at us every day,” Allman explains. “I feel we have to be aware that there’s more to life and more to ourselves than the information we need to process and the routine things we need to accomplish.”
Songs like “Endless Diamond” and “Take Me To The Bridge,” from Space Age Blues explore the concept of trying to evolve and find a connection to something greater than ourselves. Allman states, “I am on a constant push to get to the essence of what I can potentially achieve on this planet in a positive way in life and in music. And it’s not always easy…”
Allman and Honeytribe’s newest record is much more than a concept album. It’s also a musical thrill ride, carefully constructed, but full of surprises like guitar licks that explode into whistling comet trails, lush beds of strings and an overall sonic palette that draws on the best of electric music’s past and present, blending the stomp of classic rock with the sweet caress of soul and the intoxicating swirl of modern psychedelia.
The surprises begin the moment the disc starts with “Could Get Dangerous,” a funky wah-wah driven romp that playfully harps on the modern dangers we have created ourselves. In context, personal security, trust issues, political tension and inevitable cosmic fate play in to the ironically feel good vocals. Eighties megastar Huey Lewis lends his badass harmonica skills to “Could Get Dangerous.” Allman offers, “Huey was a pleasure to work with. He was a complete gentleman, and a really amazing player. He drank a lot of coffee and wore really great shoes.”
Allman shares, “I think what Huey dug, and gave us inspiration was my vision of converting Studio C at Ardent in Memphis in to the Mothership. Two thousand five hundred purple Christmas lights were brought in alongside life-sized Star Wars storm troopers to deliver the vibe. When he saw it, his eyes lit up. After he heard a few of the tracks we’d recorded, he said, ‘I’ve got to play on this record.’ ”
Other guests include Ron Holloway, Dizzy Gillespie’s veteran saxophonist who delivered a masterful performance that could be the playing of his career to this album. Allman believes, “His playing will break your heart in a good way.” Virtuoso Violinist Bobby Yang from Kevin Costner’s Modern West, serves as a one-man string section bowing all the violins via overdubbing on the ballad “Warm in Wintertime.” Tony Antonelli adds percussion, and Memphis session veteran Rick Steff plays electric keyboards, leaving the acoustic piano to Allman.
The main instrumental voice, of course, is Allman’s six-string. “Early in the band’s history we had a hired-gun lead guitarist, but about four years ago I decided to step into the role myself. In my mind, a good guitar solo has an arc like a story - an introduction, a build-up, a conflict, and resolve. It is almost Shakespearean. I have grown to really enjoy that form of expression, riding shotgun with my singing.”
Like the band’s 2006 debut Torch, Space Age Blues also includes two instrumentals. Allman describes the first, the acoustic solo “Blue Est Le Vide,” as a kind of intermission from the disc’s narratives, while “Insh’Allah” finishes the album with a sonic swan dive into the territory mapped by such musical expansionists as Pink Floyd, The Doors and Ravi Shankar, fleshed out by Allman’s own distinctively beefy tone and his passion here for exotic modalities.
But something greater than guitar prowess gives the album its power and grace. There is an emphasis on composition and the band has captured something timeless. Devon Allman and Honeytribe have combined some unlikely influences.
As the lyrics of the song “Space Age Blues” speak to the theme of life in the digital age, Allman, Potsos and Strange draw from the wellspring of Curtis Mayfield and Led Zeppelin to define their own distinctive Southern-rooted fusion musically. The resulting sound can, indeed, be described as “space age blues,” and spills directly into the track “Salvation,” creating a mini-suite about the human spirit’s constant battle for balance and redemption.
If that seems deep… well, it is. And Allman, who co-produced Space Age Blues with Ardent veteran engineer and producer Pete Matthews, worked hard to keep things that way. Allman set out to create an album that combines old school tones right down the middle with trippy cosmic sounds on the periphery.
“With Torch, I feel like I was just scratching the surface,” he continues. “This time, I feel like I’ve become more mature as an artist and a human being. This album took four years to make and I went from being yelled at by the guys in suits, to it being ‘highly anticipated’ in Billboard Magazine. In this case, the album is a culmination of having the courage to combine two of my loves – Sci-Fi and Blues.”
Although Allman Brothers Band front man Gregg Allman is his father, Devon has carved out his own musical path. “I didn’t grow up in limos or backstage,” he says. “I had a very normal childhood in the suburbs, eating McDonalds and playing soccer. By the time I was five, I was running off with my mother’s Beatles records and learning all the words. Only relatively recently have I been open enough to listen to the advice my dad has shared. I’ve always been kind of a lone wolf and I’ve worked my share of shit jobs, from a sweat shop printing T-shirts to a steel factory in Memphis to Burger King.”
Slowly building a solid, loyal fan base worldwide over the past decade, Devon Allman and Honeytribe continue building this army one gig at a time. They have been in constant motion, averaging 250 to 300 shows a year across the Globe. Reflecting on the past, looking towards the future, Allman states, “it’s time for us to really bring our A-game. The three of us have delivered an album we feel is a quantum leap from anything we have recorded in the past. Artists and bands get to the point where you either have to stay in the sandbox or go to beach. And with Space Age Blues, I hope we’ve made that transition.”