April 2024 Rock/Pop Record Reviews

The Allman Brothers Band: Manley Field House, Syracuse University, April 7, 1972
ABB Recording Company (auditioned as CD). 2023. The Allman Brothers Band, prods.; Jason NeSmith, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

In 1971, the Allman Brothers Band was mourning the passing of guitarist and leader Duane Allman. They decided that the best place to properly grieve was on the road, moving forward with the musical vision he had created. As a five-man band (Gregg Allman on vocals and keyboard, Dickey Betts on guitar, Berry Oakley on bass, and drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe), they embarked on a 22-week, 41-show tour that found them, on April 7, 1972, at Manley Field House on the campus of Syracuse University. Recorded and simulcast on the school's station, WAER, the concert in various incomplete forms traveled for years through fan circles as a bootleg. The complete concert is finally being released, pulled from the original source recording and completely remastered.

The 11-track collection features set staples from this period including show opener "Statesboro Blues," "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," "Midnight Rider," and "Whipping Post," as well as "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" off their then–newly released album Eat a Peach. "Syracuse Jam," included here for the first time, is an example of the melody jamming the band was famous for and is unique in that it does not appear in any other known ABB recording.

The sound is remarkably crisp. This five-man orientation presents arrangements the band would never again play in a live setting. Here, Dickey Betts does double duty by replacing the trademark dual leads with perhaps his most impressive playing ever.

This is a pivot point for a band in transition. Six months following this show, keyboardist Chuck Leavell would be added to the group and Lamar Williams would soon take over duties on bass. "Syracuse" is a snapshot of the most important moment in Allman's history, where the surviving members banded together and kept a brotherhood alive.—Ray Chelstowski

The Babys: Live at the Bottom Line, 1979
Omnivore Recordings (auditioned as CD). 2024. Allan Pepper, Stanley Snadowsky, prods.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

The Babys were always destined for something more. During their short run in the late 1970s, they ignited the charts with hits like "Isn't It Time" and "Every Time I Think of You." But their most important legacy is the sound they created and how it evolved in bands such as Journey (featuring the Babys' Jonathan Cain) and Bad English (with both Cain and front man John Waite), and in Waite's solo career.

The energy and material that started those journeys can be heard on Live at the Bottom Line, 1979, a previously unissued performance at that legendary New York club. Recorded during the Head First tour, the set list included their best-known hits along with three new songs, including "Crystal Ball," an early version of "Anytime." Also on the set list was "Money (That's What I Want)," the first Motown hit famously covered by the Beatles.

Here you are, listening to an arena-ready act in a small setting, and the sonic balance they strike allows the songs to breathe without losing their inherent lift. Always known for their musicianship, The Babys bring muscular guitar leads, keyboard parts that glide effortlessly, and an approach to drums from Tony Brock that's defined by the sharp snap of his snare strikes. Perhaps most impressive is the power, range, and soul of John Waite's vocals: The performance he delivers here places him comfortably with Foreigner's Lou Graham and Bad Company's Paul Rodgers in the ranks of great singers of this style of rock. Like them, his capacity to transfer the showmanship he brings to live shows to an audio-only recording is remarkable. Waite limits audience banter and devotes his talents to making these songs bloom.

For The Babys, touring would end in 1980; within a year, they all went their separate ways. But with Live at the Bottom Line, 1979, they showed the world what all the fuss was about.—Ray Chelstowski

DaveinSM's picture

So great to see appreciation here for the Babys! And appreciate Ray and Stereophile for not neglecting classic and southern rock of the 70’s.

The Allmans have gotten plenty of love over the years, so it’s good to see an underrated band like the Babys get their share too.

Good sound is always second to great music. Thank you