Personnel: Bobby Yang (violin); Ron Holloway (saxophone); Kevin McKendree (keyboards); Tom Hambridge (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Tom Hambridge.
Recording information: Sound Stage Studios, Nashville, Tennessee (05/2016); Switchyard Studios, Nashville, Tennessee (05/2016).
Photographer: Bobby Schneck.
After leaving the Royal Southern Brotherhood in 2014 and issuing Ragged & Dirty, his own extended meditation on Chicago blues, guitarist/songwriter Devon Allman spent time playing with his father's road band and guested on Jeremiah Johnson's excellent Grind the same year. His solo re-emergence on Ride or Die is an exercise in spiritual and musical maturity. He plays guitar and bass, and provides passionate lead and backing vocals. He also produced some tracks solo and others with longtime compadre Tom Hambridge -- who mixed and mastered it and played drums. Guitarist Tyler Stokes, bassist Steve Duerst, and keyboardist Kevin McKendree are also aboard, with saxophonist Ron Holloway and violinist Bobby Yang. Allman wrote or co-wrote all but two tracks. Hambridge contributed one and the set closes with a surprising cover. Allman's approach is still rooted in muscular electric blues (check the slamming opener -- and first single -- "Say Your Prayers"), but wraps these sounds in hooky hard rock, vintage soul (Northern and Southern), and rhythm & blues. "Find Ourselves," with its sweet, gritty tenor saxophone and swooping B-3, directly references Muscle Shoals, and Allman effectively advises the listener to rise up and grab onto life's purpose. This theme is recurrent. The album's title is used in the crackling "Galaxies," where Allman, buoyed by a stinging guitar line, Latin percussion, and swelling B-3, exhorts: "When galaxies collide/Will you ride or die?" While "Lost" and "Watch What You Say" are acoustically framed rockers that build to dynamic climaxes, "Shattered Times" is roiling, swampy electric funk. "Pleasure & Pain" is a midtempo soul-rock appeal to a beloved other who desires oblivion to escape the difficulties inherent in everyday life. With cracking breaks, Rhodes piano, and wrangling, jazzy guitar, he and his band bring the message home with conviction. "Hold Me," with its soul piano and finger-popping vintage rock & roll chorus, touches on early Smokey Robinson and Doc Pomus. "Live from the Heart" commences with a jangly 12-string, crisp snare, and simmering B-3. It transmutes into an unlikely yet direct homage to Curtis Mayfield. Simple, wise, and life-affirming lyrics combine with an irresistible hook, making it an album highlight. The closer is an excellent reimagining of the Cure's "A Night Like This" as a midtempo rocker complete with thundering electric guitars and a honking saxophone break. Allman beefs up the arrangement to be sure, but his singing is an unguarded expression of vulnerability offered in a deeply masculine, gritty, and soulful baritone. Ride or Die is convincing in part and as a whole. It's the first time that Allman shows full confidence in his music, that he no longer has anything to prove to anyone but himself. The fine songs on this date are to-the-bone expressions of his questions and convictions delivered in a compelling musical language. ~ Thom Jurek