"The Allman Brothers Band" Debut Half-Speed Mastered By Mobile Fidelity

A record label forensic specialist might be required to trace how The Allman Brothers Band ended up an Island/Def Jam property issued on Mercury Records, all now owned by Universal Music Group. The original was issued in 1969 on the ATCO division of Atlantic Records. Perhaps it had to do with the sale of the late Phil Walden's Capricorn imprint, through which the ATCO deal had been made.

While The Allmans have since become a jam band institution and achieved great commercial success over the years (their annual week-long stint at New York's Beacon Theater is a quick sell-out), this album did not become an instant big seller, though it was critically well-received.

Only three years after its release, ATCO reissued it as a "twofer" with Idlewild South the band's follow-up album.

The double drummer debut featuring the late Duane Allman holds up very well forty four years later, thanks to the expert musicianship and the timeless blues genre. While blues no longer attracts much of a black audience, white folks still dig it and this amalgam of white boy Southern blues and rock keeps on rockin' in the 21st century. Gregg Allman's vocals remain monumental

The drumming duo of Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson jet propels the proceedings and provides a fine anchor for Duane Allman's high pitched slide fretwork and Dicky Betts' deeper string thrusts. It could be just "the times" but there are echoes of The Grateful Dead and Santana lurking here, though Santana's debut was also issued in 1969.

The original "Whipping Post" is but one highlight in an album that contains no "lowlights", assuming of course that you dig Southern blues-based rock.

So how did Mobile Fidelity do with its remastering? I compared it to an original ATCO pressing and the version in the 1972 "two-fer". First of all, this is not a sonic spectacular to begin with, though Adrian Barber's (he was involved with The Beatles way early on, later with Cream and then with Aerosmith) engineering and particularly his mix are more than competent, with a fine spread across the stage, highlighted by the dual drummers hard-left and hard-right and a smooth blend in between that nicely congeals the whole thing in a modestly wet reverb.

The original (at least my copy) can't compare to the "two-fer." The original sounds hazy and indistinct (as did many ATCOs of that era) and the bass is rolled off and cardboardy, particularly the kick drums that have neither impact nor extension. You can barely make out Berry Oakley's bass. The two-fer is moderately better but Mobile Fidelity's reissue is a huge improvement in terms of overall instrumental clarity, dynamics and especially bass extension and clarity. The old Mo-Fi issue of rolled highs and anemic dynamics have been 100% eliminated.

If you're a fan of this album and have heard it a thousand times, I promise you, you've never heard it like this. What's more, the clarity reveals musical details heretofore hidden in the original's murk. "Whipping Post" in particular will startle you if you've grown up with the original.

Reissues sometimes better originals, sometimes it's a toss-up, sometimes originals kill the reissues and sometimes it's open for debate. In this case it's no contest: this Mobile Fidelity beats the original in every way.

That said, there's still no excuse for the inner gatefold photo of the naked Allman Brothers Band. It's a world class weenie shriveler— even if you're gay.

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P. Stoned's picture

Dude, the 1972 two-fer (and the Polydor vinyl from the same time) contains a remix, not the original 1969 mix as prepared by Barber. It was probably the band's then-engineer Johnny Sandlin who did this remix. He may have felt the original was much too congested sounding because the 1972 mix is much more dynamic with hardly any compression on any of the elements (but not necessarily better for it). One of its notable differences is the absence of the coda of My Cross To Bear.

Anyway, the remix was the version used for most any reissue since, except for the 1997 CD remaster on Capricorn (remastered by Suha Gur) and this new edition on MOFI. They have done the right thing by choosing this version because, well... it really is the correct mix. I suspect this new edition is probably closer to what's on the mastertapes, but somehow my Yellow Atco give me a better feel (and also a bit more top-end, which I think is not a bad thing here).

Lastly, don't forget, there are different pressings w/ different cuttings that could all be considered "original US", among them one by Columbia who cut from an eq'd/compressed copy tape. My 1971 copy has an A-side that was cut by George Piros, and a different softer cutting on the B-side. Hand-written matrices on both sides. The Piros cutting is very nice sounding, but just a bit on the hot side. The B-side plays clean all the way, but has a bit less "impact", so to speak.


EDIT: Listening some more now, and yes, the MOFI is clearly superior to side 2 of my yellow ATCO, which indeed seems to have the highs rolled-off. Not so with side 1 though. Not sure if copies with AT/GP on both sides of the wax exist...

mrbberry's picture

i  have  a  couple  of  these  lps.....so  atco..  is  tops..igot  new  sacd....sounds fine  also....if  you  care......

rosser's picture

I have an original pressing of this album, as well as a later Capricorn release. The Capricorn is murky with not much to recommend it, but the original ATCO is much better. I may have to investigate the MoFi now, as my original is quite beat up. Idlewild South is a different story. While the later Capricorn is similarly muddy, the original ATCO is killer, at least my copy is. Deep bass, crisp highs, tons of energy, and a clean sound overall. I don't feel the urge to look elsewhere with that one. Same with my original pink Capricorn Live at Fillmore East -- deep, massive bass and wide, deep soundstage -- it's a "GP" cut that sounds fantastic. 

AlienRendel's picture

I have always had the two-fer/Beginnings pressing and been pretty happy with it.  Looking forward to checking out this MFSL.