The early '70s were a tumultuous time for Gregg Allman. After years of hard touring, The Allman Brothers Band broke through in 1971 with Live at the Fillmore East, one of the best live albums of all time. Then his brother, slide-guitar genius Duane Allman, died in a motorcycle accident late in the year. Gregg spent some of 1972 piecing together material the group had recorded with Duane for the landmark Eat a Peach, and began recording the lively Brothers and Sisters, which yielded the hit "Rambling Man." Somewhere in the middle of that process, the keyboard player and singer sneaked away to make a different kind of record: his aptly titled solo debut, Laid Back. It came out to positive notices in 1973 before fading into the background, eclipsed by the band's runaway success.
By this time, Allman was a formidable, confident vocalist — but mostly singing in front of the roaring Allman Brothers rhythm section. Though the disc offers terrific guitar asides, Laid Back's songs are centered on Allman's B3 organ and Chuck Leavell's acoustic and electric pianos, while the rhythm section's relaxed approach defines the session. Singing at a measured pace, one word at a time, Allman makes the most of these entrancingly downcast tunes. His version of Jackson Browne's "These Days" (audio) is a study in dejection, a symphony of self-pitying shrugs and cracked-apart whines that only a southerner could make beautiful. Meanwhile, Allman's original "Midnight Rider" (audio), plenty rousing when played by the band, becomes a slightly spookier sketch of an even more shadowy figure.
Several of the songs come right from the revival tent: There's a mournful version of the standard "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and the Allman original "Please Call Home" (audio) finds him singing with a slightly ragged but utterly righteous choir. It's amazing stuff, deep and intense yet nowhere near the decibel levels of his work with the band. Allman is amazing when he's belting his heart out about being tied to the whipping post. But he's equally compelling — maybe even more so — in a quieter space, when he's less fired up. At times on Laid Back, he sounds like a man reflecting on the dizzying twists and turns of what he's recently experienced. He may still be shell-shocked, and not too proud to ask for help (from a higher power, from a friend) as he tries to make sense of all that's happened to him.