The fourth studio album from the Allman Brothers Band proved to be a success on many levels. Produced by Johnny Sandlin, Brothers and Sisters was released in August of 1973 on Capricorn Records. The band had started to really taste success with previous releases such as At Fillmore East and Eat a Peach, recorded with band leader Duane Allman. Tragically, on October 29, 1971 Duane died in a motorcycle accident, forcing the band to carry on their best without him.
A farm was purchased in Juliette, Georgia, which became a sort of commune for the band and crew. Guitarist Dickey Betts and lead singer Greg Allman were constantly writing, and the album cover features shots from the band’s life during this time. Drummer Butch Trucks’s son Vaylor is pictured on the album’s front cover while the back features a picture of bassist Berry Oakley’s daughter Brittany. Inside the gatefold shows a picture of everyone hanging out on the property. It was a classic time—and one of healing: channeling their sadness and anger into song, the band members stepped up to the plate to do some of their best work.
Brothers and Sisters proved to be one of the most commercially-successful albums of all time, selling over half a million copies within the first three weeks of its release. This is largely due to the hit song “Ramblin’ Man,” which held the number two spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 and became such a staple for the band that they avoided playing it for some time due to its over-exposure. They were happy for the airplay, but got tired of having to crank it out like a machine night after night. That being said the song is classic Allman Brothers all around, showing their country side as well as a mix of blues and rock and roll.
The album kicks off with “Wasted Words,” an up-tempo rocker that gets the album rolling right out of the gate thanks to Oakley’s tremendous bass lines rumbling throughout the tune. Tragically, Oakley himself died on November 11, 1972—roughly one year after Duane Allman. His replacement Lamar Williams plays loud and proud on tracks like the Allman-penned “Come and Go Blues” and the blues classic “Jelly Jelly.”
The iconic instrumental “Jessica” was written by Betts and features a bonafide classic solo by keyboard player Chuck Leavell. During the recording, Gregg Allman was beginning work on his solo album Laid Back. Leavell was playing on that album, and because the recording sessions overlapped he soon made his way into the studio to work on the Allman Brothers album as well. His work should not go unnoticed for lifting the band to new levels during an absolutely otherwise depressing time.
The leadership of Betts during this period cannot be overstated. He picked up the torch and carried on proudly as he felt Duane would want him to do. “Southbound,” another Betts classic, is blues done Allman Brothers style at its finest. Anyone who has seen them live, or seen Dickey Betts with his band Great Southern, has witnessed this standard. It is often stretched to several minutes with multiple instruments jumping in and enjoying the jam.
With just seven songs on the album the argument could be made that more songs should have been included. However, in typical Allman style, most of these tunes do not cater to the typical three- to four-minute radio structure. (Jessica clocks in at 7:31; Southbound at 5:11.) Brothers and Sisters is a masterpiece amalgam of rock and roll with blues and country, and even a touch of jazz integrated as only the Allman Brothers Band can. Do yourself a favor and pick up the 2013 expanded edition, which includes many outtakes and rehearsals along with live tracks as well. They just don’t write them like this anymore.