Devon Allman - Ragged and Dirty
When I spoke to Devon Allman at the end of 2013 he was full of excitement about his plans to head out to Chicago and record an album of dirty blues with the cream of the city’s musical talent. Now the results of that project are here in the shape of his new album, Ragged and Dirty.
Devon’s main collaborator on the project is Tom Hambridge, drummer/producer extraordinaire, who has credits that include Chicago’s greatest living bluesman Buddy Guy. Hambridge’s fingerprints are clear across the disk, with the funky rhythms and supremely crisp performances, but it’s anything but a rehash of what he has done before. Devon is firmly in the driving seat here, with Tom providing navigation, and the musical DNA of southern rock and jambands that make up his heritage are strong here though it’s wrapped in the deep blues that provided the foundation of the genre. There are touches, too, of Santana-esque guitar and hints of latin rhythms. However if there weren’t these little bits of what Devon does outside of this record, if it was just straight ahead 12 bars ’til sundown, this would cease to be a Devon Allman album and become a parody, a Devon does blues pastiche with no life of it’s own.
The songs and performances are full of funk, with a real feel of current Chicago blues. It’s hard hitting stuff, and, in a really good way, about as subtle as a fist to the face. The blues has never really been about burying your meaning under a flowery prose, or delicacy in delivery, and that’s something that’s been grasped here. Devon goes direct to the heart of the matter and delivers emotional and heartfelt songs without fuss and bluster. Even the disc’s cover of I’ll Be There, which has what at fort seems like an appropriately smooth soulful vibe is graced with a hard hitting solo that cuts to the point without the slightest hint of uncertainty. However the standout track has to be the closer, Leave the City, it’s as close as Devon is going to get to the delta tradition, with the main thrust being Allman’s voice and dobro with backing from Hambridge’s kick drum. The song is simple but powerful and leaves you wanting to hear more, a perfect way to close the record.
When I wrote about about Devon’s last record, Turquoise, I praised the fact that he had produced something very much of his own, without reliance on the musical heritage of his illustrious father. Here he’s done the same thing, the roots are there and you can hear the family tradition, but there’s no way that a record like this would be possible if it wasn’t the product of a man committed, heart and soul, to the task of making it. Devon may consider this his blues record, for a blues record it is, but far more than that it’s a record that defines the artist that Devon has become. Truly an unmissable listen.