Released in 1974 after the huge commercial success of Brothers and Sisters by The Allman Brothers Band a year earlier, Highway Call was Dickey Betts’ first solo album which saw his sound and songwriting develop even more. In many ways it can be considered more of a natural successor musically than the somewhat disappointing Win, Lose or Draw album the Allman’s recorded a year later in 1975.
The opening track is Long Time Gone which definitely has a Ramblin’ Man kind of feel to it when it comes to the sound and you could argue that it would have fit perfectly on the Brothers and Sisters album. The song is extremely catchy and in human terms is the offspring of his songs Blue Sky and Ramblin’ Man. There are songs on the album with more depth than Long Time Gone but for an album opener it’s absolutely perfect because it manages to catch your attention perfectly, especially the country drenched influence. Rain comes next and really opens up Dickey’s songwriting and shows what kind of writer he is. The dual guitar lines are present and form the basis for a number of solo sections throughout the song, as with the other songs on the album as well. His solo towards the middle of the song is classic Betts.
- Long Time Gone
- Highway Call
- Let Nature Sing
- Hand Picked
- Kissimmee Kid
The title track, Highway Call, is the third song and sees the music head in a different direction after the previous two songs. The tempo is slower but the music is just as complex, just as infectious. Chuck Leavell’s piano playing fits perfectly alongside the songwriting and guitar playing with Dickey’s singing a definite highlight of the track and the entire album. There’s a gorgeous piano section towards the middle of the song which sees Leavell on fine form before Betts returns for another verse. The song fades out to end but you feel like it should go on forever, it’s that gorgeous. The country elements of Dickey’s songwriting return in full force with Let Nature Sing with the inclusion of banjo playing and female backing vocalists. The banjo picking of course is the primary country feel throughout the song but the presence of violins just adds to the overall gorgeousness of this song. Up to this point Betts had a number of songs with The Allman Brothers Band which were influenced by country music but this is probably the first song which goes all out as a country song. The instrumentation is fantastic as well.
If Let Nature Sing is the first all out country song by Dickey Betts then Hand Picked is the second. It’s also the latest (at the time of recording) in a long line of incredible instrumental songs Betts had composed. The music is fantastic and sounds just as good today as it did when the song was recorded. The final song is a cover of Kissimmee Kid by Vassar Clements and a really good way to bring the album to a close. There aren’t any vocals in this song either but the music itself is so good that no vocals are needed to end the album.
In terms of 1970’s albums and albums in general, Highway Call is extremely underrated and I’d be surprised if anyone outside of The Allman Brothers Band’s fanbase has heard it. But they need to because it’s the debut album of one of the finest guitar players to ever play the instrument. Yes, the likes of Duane Allman, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix are more widely talked about but Betts is up there with the best. His work in The Allman Brothers Band is incredible and alongside Duane Allman he formed arguably the best guitar partnership the world has ever seen before going on to help carry the band after Duane’s passing. Highway Call is a great album and worthy of a place in your record collection.