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Allman delivers, with just a slight strain

What do you do if you're a celebrated rock 'n' roll legend like Gregg Allman, with 30 years of brilliant successes, and hopes that a soon-to-released album will be adding to your legacy? You do what Allman did Thursday night for a packed Ruth Eckerd Hall: Give 'em the new stuff, but keep plenty of the old stuff at the ready.

Allman's spirited show Thursday night was a healthy reassurance that his talents haven't dimmed much since his early days with the Allman Brothers Band. Looking fitter than he has in the last few years, Allman was his usual laid-back self, seeming most at home behind his Hammond B-3 as his ace six-man outfit burrowed in on a mix of tunes from the forthcoming Searching For Simplicity and, of course classic Allman Brothers material.

Starting off with the title track from his last solo LP, I'm No Angel, Allman put his grainy blues voice to work. His wistful version of the R&B hit, Slip Away showed that Allman doesn't have to be the blues belter he is called on to be with Allman Brothers to get his point across.

The show was the tour kick-off for Allman and his six-piece band. And though there wasn't the polish and shine that Allman Brothers routinely delivers, the audience was more forgiving than perhaps the band expected them to be. Often, it looked as though they were expecting catastrophe, and smiles were few until near the end of the show.

Throughout the night, Allman kept the intensity level up with his stellar singing and occasional surprises.

His version of Whipping Post reworked into a groove beat had the crowd cheering by the time the first chorus popped up. Guitarist Mark McGee did an admirable job re-creating the celebrated ax work of both Dickey Betts and Gregg's brother Duane, while emitting his own fresh style.

"I'll dedicate this one to my brother's memory," said Allman as he introduced Dark End of the Street. The soulful ballad had the audience enraptured, especially as McGee added a fitting slide solo.

Allman was generous with the spotlight, too, giving his longtime friend percussionist Floyd Miles the opportunity to belt out energetic renderings of Born Under a Bad Sign and his own Going Back to Daytona.

Picking up an acoustic guitar, Allman served his longtime fans well with the Allman Brothers classics Midnight Rider (done with more of an edge than the version he remade for the Laid Back album in the 1970s) and a tender version of Sweet Melissa, written he said, several years before the band recorded it in the early 1970s.

However, the opening strains of Statesboro Blues had the crowd dancing in the isles as Allman kicked the song into high gear. And what better picture to leave the fans with: all smiles, and happy to back on the road.