Sunday, September 18, 2005

DVD/CD Review: Dickey Betts and Great Southern - Back Where It All Begins—Live at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

On September 29, 2004, Dickey Betts and his band Great Southern entertained a packed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. September 20, 2005, will mark the first time a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has released a recording created at the hall when Eagle Rock Entertainment releases this concert on DVD with a bonus CD as Back Where It All Begins—Live at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Betts, who was inducted into the hall in 1995 as a member of the Allman Brothers Band, has been a repeat visitor to the hall since his induction and now has earned the honor of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame first.

“Back Where It All Begins” is not only the name of a 1994 Betts-penned Allman Brothers Band song (and one of the songs in this collection), it’s also a nod to the concert’s location, Cleveland, Ohio, the purported birthplace of rock and roll (though that’s Cleveland’s claim, not mine).

The DVD opens with Dickey Betts and members of the current Great Southern lineup talking about, among other things, how great it is to be a member of the band and playing at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Betts obviously chose this band because of their skills over their reputations. I was only familiar with former Allman Brothers guitarist “Dangerous” Dan Toler, who looks and sounds very comfortable on stage with Betts.

The first track on the DVD is Allman Brothers Band classic “Statesboro Blues,” which is one of the few on the DVD/CD that Betts didn’t write. For the most part, the concert is made up of classic Allman tunes, many of which he also provided vocals. But time can be cruel on a rocker’s voice, and Betts’ vocals barely resemble what was once a smooth and sweet tenor tone. Betts thankfully shares singing duty with keyboardist Michael Kach, who, not coincidently, sounds like Gregg Allman in his prime.

In all, the DVD has 12 tracks (with a 152-minute run time) and 2 bonus tracks (for a total of 14 songs) contained in the above average Special Features section.

In addition to the two bonus tunes, the Special Features section contains a great radio interview for WCPN in Cleveland (videotaped so you don’t have to look at a black screen) in which Betts cites The Grateful Dead as a major influence on the Allmans and talks about Duane Allman and the effect his death had on the band.

The Special Features section also contains a feature called “Dickey on,” which is actually an interview (conducted at the hall) with Betts broken into 13 topics. Discussed topics include Dickey taking about his first gig, discussions about some of the more popular Betts-penned classics Dickey wrote while with the Allmans, and what Dickey thinks of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The accompanying CD includes five tracks, but make no mistake, this is no EP. This is a full length CD clocking in at a little over 60 minutes. It includes sound check versions of “Blue Sky,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Southbound.” The CD versions of “Southbound” and “Blue Sky” are identical to the ones buried in the DVD’s Special Features section, just without the video. The CD also contains a Dickey Betts Band track called “Donna Maria” (erroneously listed as “Donna Marie” on the DVD packaging), which actually reminds me of every Santana song recorded in the last 10 years, but with better guitar work. Finally, an alternate version of “Jessica” in all its 17-minute glory closes the album.

The DVD has three audio channel options (a nice feature for a live performance video): two-channel stereo (standard), Dolby Surround 5.1 (now were getting somewhere), and DTS (that’s what I’m talking about!). While I was somewhat disappointed with the 5.1 mix, the DTS mix is great, especially when played loudly (is there any other way?). If you have a DTS receiver, you’ll have no use for the 5.1 mix. If not, I recommend going with the two-channel stereo mix, even if you are set up for surround sound.

Though not as technically sharp as he was back in the day, Betts is still a helluva player. He takes chances with his instrument that most guys aren’t willing to take. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But it certainly solidifies his place in rock as one of the “guitarists/songwriters who matter.”

I’m finding myself watching and listening to Back Where It All Begins over and over. And each time I notice things I hadn’t before. This is a great collection to just sit down and “actively” listen to.

If you are curious about Betts, the origins of the jam band sound, or guitar virtuosity, I would suggest starting with some early Allmans like Idlewild South, At Fillmore East, or Eat a Peach. If you’ve been there and done that, I think you’ll be pleased with these new versions of many of the Allman Brothers Band’s biggest hits. If you are already a huge Dickey Betts fan or just a bonafide guitar freak, you need this.


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