Who would have thought that nearly 25 years after the death of Duane Allman, the Allman Brothers Band would become landmark American rock & roll road warriors? For those who need to be reminded even after Woodstock '94 and the Allmans' induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last January their latest live album, 2nd Set, should do the trick. The band may look like travel-weary truckers, but when Dickey Betts' and Warren Haynes' guitars coil around each other on ''You Don't Love Me,'' or the band bites down hard on the slow-burner boogie of ''Sailin' 'Cross the Devil's Sea,'' the years of mediocre albums and wasted opportunities melt away. With the exception of a slack jam on ''Jessica,'' the Allmans remain that rarity: a rock band that knows how to improvise and keep listeners awake.
As renditions of recent numbers like ''Back Where It All Begins'' reveal, they're still capable of writing songs drenched in a resilient, optimistic spirit. Which, ultimately, may account for as much of the Allmans' appeal as those ozone-piercing twin-guitar leads. You can hear survival in Betts' vibrant guitar and in Gregg Allman's been-there-downed-that croak. The road may still go on forever caked with death, melancholy, and career fatigue but the Allmans fend off ennui every inch of the way. A-