Spins

At Fillmore East (Deluxe Edition)
Mercury/Chronicles

Live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival
Epic/Legacy
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND
If there's ever a class called Jam Rock 101 — and, who knows, there might already be — The Allman Brothers' At Fillmore East will be at or very near the top of the required listening list. Now comes a companion piece: Live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival, recorded eight months earlier on a sweltering stage in tiny Byron, Ga. All but a couple of songs on this two-disc set are being released for the first time.

Since its release in 1971, Fillmore has set the gold standard for a rock ensemble making improvisatory music captured on stage. When ABB recorded the shows in March of that year, they came prepared, with arrangements and planned elements and hours of shedding and rehearsal under their belts. Hard work laid the groundwork for in-the-moment success: Not only do the guitar solos by Duane Allman and Dickie Betts reach the stratosphere, but the band's ensemble playing is impeccable, Gregg Allman's vocals are soulful and robust, and drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe lay down an undulating groove that massages the music as much as drives it. This double-disc Deluxe Edition brings together the material issued in various iterations over the years. (Two songs, "One Way Out" and "Midnight Rider," are taken from a Fillmore show three months later.) The music has aged beautifully. If only today's jam bands could approach Fillmore's standards.

The summer prior to the Fillmore shows, the Allman Brothers were still largely a regional phenomenon, with a self-titled debut album out and a second, Idlewild South, in the can. The term "Southern rock" had yet to be uttered. The Atlanta Pop Festival promoters tabbed the band, based in nearby Macon, to open and close the three-day fest that featured such established stars as Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull and Grand Funk Railroad.

Atlanta International Pop Festival captures ABB in a looser frame; the sextet's confidence and instrumental rapport are readily obvious, although they're not as tightly drilled. The twin-guitar parts drift harmonically now and then; sometimes the rhythm meanders rather than pulsates; Gregg's vocals occasionally lack focus. But it's still great stuff that was well recorded in the first-place and cleaned up to nearly Fillmore-level sonics.

The set lists are similar — the most welcome addition to Atlanta being a terrific version of "Dreams" — but the renditions are sufficiently different to open new vistas on the songs. For someone (such as myself) who has every note of Fillmore embedded in the gray matter, the performances on Atlanta come off as fresh and invigorating.

At Fillmore East:

Live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival: —ERIC SNIDER

Permission to Land
THE DARKNESS

Atlantic
It's official: Trendy, sincere-but-still-kind-of-ironic love for the arena rock of yesteryear has reached its zenith. Or maybe not. With the kind of press this longhaired, zebra-skin-unitarded British quartet is generating, we just might be in for a lengthy line of bands studiously ignoring everything that's happened since the second Cinderella album.

Musically, Permission to Land harks back much further, preferring to take its cues more from late '70s/early '80s U.K. hard rock than from the subsequent Sunset Strip saturation. Influences are obvious, from Thin Lizzy and Bad Company to mid-era AC/DC, as the songs embellish huge, blues-based riffs with familiar pop-rock hooks and power-ballad grandeur. In fact, while there are some highlights ("Growing on Me," "Love Is Only a Feeling"), every tune is solidly constructed, splitting the difference between nasty pentatonic grooves and infectious flourishes straight off the FM dial, albeit the FM dial of 25 years ago.

The record would be far more than a solid listen/grin-inducing diversion, then, were it not for vocalist/mastermind Justin Hawkins, who simply cannot settle for letting his singing fit the song. Hawkins insists on careening between a sexy sneer and a, er, startling faux-operatic falsetto on every song. The first couple of times through, it's both intriguing and funny, but it soon descends through irritating to barely tolerable.

It's here that The Darkness gives the joke away, if there is one, with a performance so over-the-top it's worthy of Spinal Tap. And if there isn't a joke, well, it's disappointing to hear such a promising rock band fronted by the kind of vocalist who may yearn for the polarizing sort of presence of a Freddy Mercury, but who, unfortunately, is no Freddy Mercury. —SCOTT HARRELL

Comfort Woman
MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO

Maverick
The enigmatic artist, who has long danced on the fringe of commercial success, throws out something different with each new album. Comfort Woman is a thick, languid slab of stoner funk, accented with dub and psychedelic soul. I haven't heard a major-pop release with a mix this bass-heavy in a very long time. But that's part of the point: Even though Ndegeocello is on Madonna's Maverick imprint, she remains fiercely independent. The songs, most of them mid-tempo, are dreamy and flowing; they're the perfect fit for the artist's breathy, seductive voice. —ERIC SNIDER

Diamond Dave
DAVID LEE ROTH

Magna Carta
David Lee Roth is the musical equivalent of Weekend at Bernie's: fun, juvenile, and never too serious for his own good. His credentials as a certified artist probably never stretched beyond his acrobatic high kicks, but even that was enough to earn him a spot among rock's best frontmen. But Dave's getting on in years and his sexed-up surfer-dude shtick makes him look like a dirty old uncle, which is all too evident on Diamond Dave. Fourteen tracks of mostly cover songs leave The Spandexed One the victim of his own device, a sad parody of his former glory. Dave fumbles through these songs, butchering Hendrix's "If 6 Was 9" and the Doors' "Soul Kitchen." Diamond Dave is at best a curiosity piece, one for the stoners to crash the next frat party with. Fodder for the dollar bins at Goodwill. A testimony to why we recycle plastic. —MARK SANDERS

Great Wall
PAUL OAKENFOLD

Perfecto
Oakenfold is known for crowd-pleasing DJ sets that cascade and crescendo to mannered climaxes, but his mix CDs of progressive trance, such as this double album, pack little of that energy. Great Wall contains several fine tracks, like a Junkie XL mix of "Legacy" by Sydney electronica band Infusion; Bjork's serene ballad "Pagan Poetry"; and "Electrofreek," a fuzzy slice of funk from drum 'n' bass innovator John B. and vocalist Libby Picken. But it's impossible to attribute the success of these songs to Oakenfold, who waters them down as much as he freshens them up with his whitewash of glossy, airy trance. —COOPER CRUZ

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