Devon Allman is a very talented guitarist, singer and songwriter who eloquently creates deep groove-filled music straight from his heart and soul. Turquoise on Ruf Records is Devon Allman’s first solo release, but he is most assuredly not a newcomer to the music business. He has benefited from the long-term experience of fronting his own world-trotting bluesy guitar riffing band Honeytribe. When in 2012 he became a charter member in the critical and public acclaimed rock/blues group Royal Southern Brotherhood his spot amongst the upper echelon of modern music makers was further solidified. Devon is also the son of Gregg Allman, although he never met his famous father until he reached 15 years old, instead forming his own musical appreciation in the course of growing up with his mother and stepdad in a normal suburban existence.
Devon is writer or co-writer of ten of the eleven songs on Turquoise, displaying an ever-growing capacity to articulate his life experiences into assorted musical expressions. His introspective songwriting and superb singing are showcased to splendid advantage on this new collection of songs. Devon calls on a couple of his bandmates in Royal Southern Brotherhood for their assistance: Yonrico Scott provides his skillful drumming expertise throughout, while Mike Zito helps co-write a couple strong songs.
Turquoise is produced by multi-Grammy award winning Jim Gaines, who also produced Royal Southern Brotherhood’s eponymous debut. In the Blues/Rock World, Gaines is legendary for securing the peak quality performances out of artists. The abundant list includes luminaries such as Albert Collins, Blues Traveler, Eric Johnson, Luther Allison, Albert Cummings, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Walter Trout, Coco Montoya, and George Thorogood. The album was recorded at the Bessie Blue Studio in Stantonville, Tennessee, as well as at Ardent Studios in Memphis.
Turquoise begins with a rock’n’rollin’ down the highway number called “When I Left Home” that includes some mighty tasty lead and swampy slide guitar from guest artist Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, former Black Crowes). The forthright autobiographic lyrics are sung with deep passion in a rich full tone, and the tune exudes vast energy. Devon said he borrowed the title from Buddy Guy’s autobiography, a slight nod to one of the all-time greats of the Blues.
The first Zito/Allman composition is “Don’t Set Me Free, with the music co-written and the lyrics entirely Allman’s. They tell a sad tale about how struggles with finances can strain a relationship, with the girl in the song being painted as a gold-digger type who is walking away. The jingle jangly interwoven Petty-esque guitars, walking bass line, and snappy back-beat drums eventually lead to a chorus with a deep hook.
A slower paced bluesy song “Time Machine” has lyrics, like a few others on the disc, preoccupied with time slipping away, and the need to reflect back on the good memories without letting time pass without full enjoyment. Drum sticks hit the drum rims like a metronome ticking away the seconds. Mature stuff, but some soul-searching is permitted and even encouraged on an artist’s solo projects, and Allman openly shares his emotions from beginning to end.
Tom Petty’s famous duet with Stevie Nicks, “Stop Draggin My Heart Around” is the only cover song on the CD. The Petty/Mike Campbell penned rock classic is faithfully done, but in a slightly slower tempo than the original. Ruf Records blues-steeped stable-mate Samantha Fish takes the swagger-filled female lead and Allman displays how big an influenced Petty was/is on his vocal style. Devon shares “Tom Petty has always been one of my favorite artists. This song totally takes me back to my youth.” Allman and Fish go together like bacon and sizzle, and they memorably render this track with a southern-kissed twist.
“There’s No Time” has a heavy early Santana vibe in more ways than one. The stop and start rhythm, the vocals, and even the guitars pay homage to Carlos. The reoccurring theme of time comes into play, just as it will on the following song titled “Strategy.” Together, “There’s No Time” and “Strategy” form a perfect one-two sequence. The Santana semblance is again at hand on the latter, a hesitant-paced song, with Allman serving up another inspired expressive vocal. Guest guitarist Bobby Schneck, Jr., who has toured with Devon in the past, here teams with Allman to form a judicious and smoldering guitar duo.
Like the entire album “Homesick” grows on you with each repeated listen. The lyrics relate a simple story about life on the road, missing all the cherished loved ones while spending time in hotel rooms, on airplanes, etc. Devon’s regretful vocal is extremely heart-felt with his guitar possessing a biting remorse that is touching to say the least.
The soft rocking “Into The Darkness” is buoyed by a saxophone solo by Ron Holloway and graced with the Hammond B-3 organ rhythms of Rick Steff alongside a great Devon vocal treatment. Allman relates that he wrote the song for his son Orion, whose birth forever changed his life.
Artfully completing the rhythm section for the recording of Turquoise is electric bass player Myles Weeks, who is ear-catching on every track. On “Key Lime Pie” Myles plays an acoustic upright bass that helps give this song a light-strut feel different from the others. “Key Lime Pie” was written for Devon’s girlfriend and features a vocal that comes closest to sounding like his father Gregg, but with far less gravel. Elsewhere on the disc Devon’s vocals vaguely recall qualities found in Gregg Rollie, Lowell George, Tom Johnston, or most closely to my ears, Paul Weller around his Wild Wood period. Allman’s vocal style is warm and smoky-smooth, sort of like the extraordinary pleasingly fine taste of George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey.
Devon takes a slight step back in time with the only instrumental on the record, “Yadira’s Lullaby.” It is also the shortest song on Turquoise, and for some reason reminds me a bit of some of the instrumental Doobie Brothers songs. It’s a very gentle and sweetly soothing song that Devon wrote for his girlfriend while on tour and is performed with only a three string cigar box guitar. He writes in the liner notes that he played this song to serenade Yadira to sleep using Skype when he was on the road. Cigar box guitars were widely used in the early Blues recordings from the Mississippi Delta. There is a certain “airiness” to a three-string that derives from the music’s simplicity, in other words its “stripped down” effect.
Devon closes Turquoise with a beautiful song with lyrics that paint the picture of relaxation and the recharging of personal energy perfectly. “The plane is boarding….I’ve got my passport, Ready for the white sands……thirsty for turquoise, I need some sunshine….on my white skin, I’m ready for it all to begin,” and then a bit later “You got to slow down sometimes…..and turn off the world.” The song title is “Turn Off The World” and the lyrics were inspired by a trip to the Caribbean island of Curaçao with his girlfriend. In his liner notes Devon also maintains this song was a last second type thing, and was the final song to finish off the album. So last second in fact that Myles Weeks, the bass player, had already left to return home, leaving Devon to cut the bass tracks himself. The title of the album arises from Devon returning from his revitalizing trip and making an observation to Jim Gaines regarding the beautiful radiant turquoise color of the waters.
The lofty level of confidence, maturity, and genuine substance present on Turquoise is discernible, although hard to describe in mere words, other than to say this recording moves me. It is a finely crafted triumph for Devon Allman that capitalizes on his immense talents to effectively mix a variety of styles into a cohesive statement that is sure to please. Turquoise is a personal statement from Devon’s heart that sustains a potent momentum throughout with predominant themes that thread their way to compellingly tie the package together to ultimately reach its destination ……….the listener’s heart.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com