The Allman Brothers returned during the summer of 1980 with their ninth album, Reach For The Sky. Its line-up of keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Allman, guitarist/vocalist Dickey Betts, drummer Jai Johnny Johanson, guitarist Dan Toler, bassist David Goldflies, and drummer Butch Trucks remained intact for the second album in a row.
I have two basic problems with this album. First, the songs are good in places, but they do not hang together particularly well. Many of the songs seem a better fit for a Dickey Betts or Gregg Allman solo album than for an Allman Brothers release. Secondly, the group should have made a better label choice. Its long term Capricorn label had folded for financial reasons. I’m not sure the Arista label quite knew what to do with them or how to promote the band, as many of its artists were far removed from their southern rock sound. They should have accepted The Allman Brothers on their own terms as they did the Grateful Dead, who were also signed to the label. It all added up to an average release with moderate sales.
Dickey Betts continued to be the primary composer, as he wrote or co-wrote five of the tracks. Gregg Allman contributed two and guitarist Dan Toler co-wrote three tracks.
As was becoming the custom, the best of the tracks was a Dickey Betts instrumental. “From The Madness Of The West” may not have been as melodic as some of his other creations, but the guitar work is some of the best of his career. He had developed a unique style, which was and remains instantly recognizable. Toler proves more than able as his second guitarist. There is a classic drum solo that connects the two parts of the song.
There are a number of other representative tracks. “Hell and High Water” is a nice autobiographical song with a gospel feel to it. “Mystery Woman,” written by Gregg Allman and Dan Toler, quickly finds a nice groove. It may be a little more pop-oriented than a lot of The Allman Brothers material, but it is pleasurable. “So Long” was another Allman/Toler composition, and Allman shines.
Reach For The Sky contains no big surprises and is representative of the mid-period of The Allman Brothers career. It contains some good and some very average music. If you want the best of The Allman Brothers, there are a lot of better places to start.