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A FRESH START FOR DICKEY BETTS

Dickey Betts, the man who wrote the Allman Brothers Band's biggest hit ("Ramblin' Man") and a few more of its classic tunes ("In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," "Jessica" and "Southbound" to name a few) played a gig Sunday night without his former cohorts. Instead, there was a seven-piece ensemble that Betts got together after his former bandmates told him that his services would not be required for their summer tour.

Whether his severance is permanent or not, there were enough supportive fans packed into the Sideshow Music Hall in Lackawanna to put a grin on the guitarist's face for most of the evening. Whatever caused the dismissal of this key historical component to the Allman Brothers' sound, none of it was in evidence. Instead, there were the crystalline lead guitar licks, the finely honed rhythm riffs and the stunning, improvisatory solos that inspired generations of jam bands as Betts lead his new group through most of the key songs from his days with the Allman Brothers Band.

In addition to Betts, from whom much was expected and delivered (especially in a stellar performance of "Blue Sky"), the band deserved its own share of kudos. Certainly guitarist Mark May was a revelation to many. Voted the Houston Press Musician of the Year in 1999, May is a stellar musician and a fine, full-bodied vocalist who occupied the spotlight when it wasn't on Betts.

May was more than credible when sharing the signature twin leads originally made famous by Betts and the late, lamented Duane Allman, but he also displayed some impressive slide guitar chops and, on "Mercury Blues" and "Lights Out, Nobodys Home," assumed the stylistic hallmarks of the legendary Texas blues master Albert Collins.

Appearing with Betts was the Larry McCray Band. This power trio has plenty of chops to spare but as is all too often the case among modern "blues" bands, it was easier to cruise on technique than on content. There was, to quote somebody famous, "sound and fury signifying nothing."

Bassist Jerome Storm was a particularly egregious offender, furiously churning out thumb-slapping soul riffs without regard to either their function within or appropriateness for standard blues progressions.

Still, it was McCray's band and despite his formidable skills as a guitarist, the overall performance was a disappointment when compared to the kind of work heard on his studio albums. The one bright spot in his performance actually belonged to "Soul Shine."

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