“If Down to the River was the sound of the band’s combustible sparks igniting, then BLESS YOUR HEART is their bonfire, built for the summer of 2020 and beyond; a double-album follow-up fueled by road-forged camaraderie and telepathic musical intensity, vibrantly reflecting the individual and collective experiences of these seven, all drawing inspiration from the band’s symbolic hometown—a place Devon Allman calls “the United States of Americana.”
A conflagration of influences and invention, confidence and ambition, BLESS YOUR HEART captures a vast, panoramic scope throughout a baker’s dozen of modern rock. Ragged and stomping. Heady and frayed. Soaring and scorching. Generational and genteel. West Coast scenes and Gulf Coast shores. Gateways of the Midwest and swamplands of Florida. Wyoming’s Big Sky. New York’s Big Apple. Chicago’s Broad Shoulders.
Among the fiery set is “Magnolia Road,” a semi-autobiographical overview of Allman and Betts written, ironically, by Vaughan alone, and a tie-dyed contender for summer festival favorite. There is the album’s starter, “Pale Horse Rider,” ominously evolving into a dark and dense rumbler accentuated by an unbridled storm of guitars, evoking the spirit of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse and modern counterpart, My Morning Jacket.
Over a week’s time, they recorded 13 songs, with additional tracking in Memphis and St. Louis. Within the eclectic repertoire are the familiar: stacks of guitars; electric, acoustic, and slide; a throttling, percussive rhythm section. And the fresh: Bassist and singer Berry Duane Oakley’s ABB vocal debut on his original song (“The Doctor’s Daughter”); Allman’s baritone vocal channeling Johnny Cash (“Much Obliged”); Betts extending the legendary family legacy of incendiary instrumentals (“Savannah’s Dream”). They tapped friends, as well, such as Jimmy Hall, Shannon McNally, Art Edmaiston, Susan Marshall, and Reba Russell for guest contributions. Then, emerged with an undeniable achievement of an album (what sophomore jinx?) worthy of its winking, unabashedly Southern title.
“I think we definitely challenged ourselves, pushed ourselves artistically, and widened the spectrum on all levels. We wanted something that was a little more sweeping. A deeper experience,” says Betts.
Says Allman, “I hope what people hear on BLESS YOUR HEART is a band that’s having a love affair with being a band.”