Oh Happy Day! I finally got a copy of the Blu-ray Disc super deluxe edition of The Allman Brothers Band's second studio album called Idlewild South!
Jumping right in, from the first song onward, I began to wonder if the remix engineer may have taken some cues from the Allman's lyrics to when designing his 5.1 surround sound vision for this pioneering 1970 southern rock classic.
You see, on that opening song -- "Revival" -- the band is heard singing the chorus / refrain "People can you feel it? Love is everywhere!" while the music is literally coming at you from everywhere around the room. Duane Allman and Dickey Betts' lead guitars intersect diagonally (front to back, right to left)... other guitar parts sparkle in the in the real right channel while congas in the rear-left propel the song along. The core rhythm section and lead vocals remain centered in the front channels for the most part. Vocals seemingly come in around you at times -- indeed, its the next best thing to being at a church revival, and it's really quite fun!
For those of you who always wanted more cowbell... well.... the balance is just right on "Don't Keep Me Wondering," but you can certainly hear it clanking away more clearly in surround sound. Harmonicas and guitars flourish in the back.
And so it goes with the rest of the mix on Idlewild South. The surround sound approach opens up the music, bringing more direct focus to the beauty of Duane Allman and Dicky Betts' soloing magic, their wonderful sense of improvisational interplay was a key factor which made this group so distinctive and innovative.
Through all this multi channel wizardry, the mixers mostly keep true to the feel of the album. The original recordings as laid down on tape by the great Tom Dowd will always sound a certain way based on how he recorded the band -- it is in part the sound of the studios, particularly Criteria Studios in Florida and Capricorn Studios in Georgia, where the recordings were made. So, even though the recording has been newly remixed into surround sound, the music mostly sounds like this seminal Allman Brothers recording always sounded.
The key words repeated intentionally in that last paragraph are, however: "mostly."
The reality is when you switch back to the original Stereo mix, the locked in wallop of drums 'n bass in the original mix are positively huge in 96 kHz, 24-bit PCM stereo high resolution sound. That is not the case on the 5.1 surround mix, alas, but I don't view it as a bad thing. I think the surround mix has a different intent and purpose. I can see the appeal however of the surround sound mix especially if you are fan of the Duane's guitar work and Greg's lush organ playing.
It is a different thing, this surround mix. And that is ok.
That said, I suspect that for many of you, Dear Readers, producer Tom Dowd's original Stereo mix will be more than enough reason to buy this super deluxe edition. I know it is great enough sounding to make me willingly part with my original Atco Records pressing of the album (I never have been completely happy with the pressings I've had of this album over the years, I will admit).
Add in the joy of having both versions available on the Blu-ray Disc in both DTS HD Master audio or Dolby TrueHD sound (as well as PCM for the Stereo) is that you can pick and choose the flip of a button. That is what makes it A deluxe edition like this so sweet.
Even the bonus tracks are in surround sound! The studio out take version of "Statesboro Blues" (previously available only on the Dreams box set) puts the two drummers of the band again diagonally opposed to one another across the room while the guitar is criss cross. There is a really cool moment at the start of the alternate take of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," where each of the drummers kick off the song with a little roll of their drum sticks on their ride cymbals just a split second delayed from one another -- coming at the listener from either side of the room, its a neat use of the surround sound fields.
The other welcome inclusion in the set is a remastered and expanded version of the now legendary 1970 concert by the Allman Brothers recorded Live at Ludlow Garage. The "legendary" portion of course comes from a soaring 45-plus minute version of "Mountain Jam." The concert had been released officially in 1990 on a two CD set. This new version adds a 15-minute version of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." The sound is far superior to the 1990 edition (a release I was never particularly thrilled with sonically).
Of course in the set you also get the original Idlewild South album on regular CD as well. But I suspect most of you will be spending your time listening to the Blu-ray version in 2.0 and 5.1 sound as well as the live concert.
All this adds up to a joyous celebration for Allman Brothers fans, expanding the band's catalog of great surround sound and high-resolution releases such as Live at the Fillmore East (which I reviewed previously here on Audiophilereview) and their 1972 classic, Eat a Peach.
Perhaps someday they'll rework Enlightened Rogues into surround sound...
The road goes ever onward...