Monday, June 23, 2014

Little Martha

Yesterday afternoon was a lovely early summer New England day, and with our son out of town and nothing really on the agenda, the Prime Minister and I decided to take a drive. No particular place to go, as the man said, so we just set out on a 90-minute car excursion, something we do oh so rarely yet provides such a nice and tranquil break in the day.

Our brief travels took us both to and past a few hidden Connecticut gems, off-the-beaten path places that you really need to live here to know about.

Like here, Old Newgate Prison, which amazingly enough was just two prisons ago for Connecticut:

And here, Enders State Forest, which is a stunning little hollow located fewer than 100 steps from a main road:

And ultimately to here, Barkhamsted Reservoir, which is a pretty breathtaking place all unto itself, in part because it kind of feels like it comes upon you out of nowhere:

So anyway, these sites plus the Prime Minister's wondrous company really did make for just an awesome 90 or so minute jaunt to parts not so far away, yet far enough away to remind you of how pleasant these drives can be.

But of course this is not a Connecticut Travel blog; it's a music blog. So now I shall get to it.

As I often do when we drive together, I put my much better half in charge of the music. And on this trip she chose one of her favorites to play:

Right on.

It's such an eclectic and oddball album, Eat a Peach, the last Allman Brothers Band album that guitar savant Duane Allman would appear on before he died (actually he died a few months prior to the record's February 1972 release, which adds an even greater haunting feeling to it all). The record is sui generis in the rock-n-roll world for a few reasons. Start with its sprawling nature (nearly 70 minutes in length) and the posthumous release. Then mix in the fact that it bounces between live and studio. And finally consider the content; its indelible mix of some of the band's most popular tracks ever ("Melissa," "Blue Sky," "One Way Out") with some of its most innovative and, let's face it, experimental (Dickie Betts' nine-minute "Les Brers in A Minor" seems like advanced calculus, but the band's 33-minute stemwinder "Mountain Jam" makes the former track practically sound like a pop ditty).

So we took all of this in, even every second of "Mountain Jam" which, seriously, needs to be played in the background as such, because it simply cannot be a song you sit down to simply listen to the way you would, say, "Ain't Wasting Time No More" or "Melissa." And it provided the letter perfect soundtrack to our brief but delightful journey.

And it all wrapped up, as we pulled back into town, with the last song that Duane Allman ever wrote, as well as the only song he ever wrote just by himself for the Allmans. It's the song that, sadly but fittingly, serves as his elegy:

"Little Martha," despite it being just Duane all by his lonesome just a few weeks before his fatal motorcycle crash, has so much to it. It's bouncy and playful, while at the same time (perhaps due to the tragedy that would soon come) possessing a mournful and melancholy pull. It's got a typical Allman Brothers backstory to it, funny and dreamy and perverse, something about how this song came to Duane in a dream he had of Jimi Hendrix using bathroom faucets to play the melody. And it has this gentle, unpolished and, really, unfinished soul about it. A meditation on not only the magic Duane Allman was capable of, but also on just how fleeting that magic can be.

And on a beautiful early summer Sunday afternoon in northern Connecticut, "Little Martha" served the simple but essential purpose of bringing us home.

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