The very thing that made Luther Allison noteworthy became an albatross around his neck. Years after his initial run of records in the '70s, he was known for the same thing he was at the time – he was the only blues artist on Gordy, or any Motown affiliated label. This was true and novel, but many focused on the novelty, not the truth, ignoring Allison's status as a terrific torchbearer of raw Chicago blues. Some of material illustrates some contemporary influence – dig that funky groove and organ on "Raggedy and Dirty," or the rock-oriented slow burn of Mel London's "Cut You A-Loose" – but as his original title track illustrates, he can also deliver a torturous, impassioned slow grind. Still, this isn't an album about originality, it's a record how tradition can remain alive in a contemporary setting. Apart from the slightly cleaner production and the extended running time, this could have been released 15 years earlier, since its heart is in classic Chicago blues, particularly Chess. He draws on Willie Dixon via Howlin' Wolf for the first two tracks, dipping into Elmore James and B.B. King's catalogs later on in the record.
Mose Allison's career in his golden and quite fruitful years has yielded many surprises and challenges, not the least of which is this delightful offering. He continues to write attractive, bouncy, and fun tunes carried by his signature roiling piano style and sly lyrics. For this effort, producer and Allison disciple Ben Sidran hooked him up with musicians from the modern New Orleans jazz scene, including Astral Project members – the extraordinary drummer John Vidacovich, tenor saxophonist Tony Dagradi, and guitarist Steve Masakowski.
Mose Allison, who was a musical institution long before 1987, had not run out of creative juices after 30 years of major league performances. This set finds him introducing such ironically truthful songs as "Ever Since The World Ended," "Top Forty," "I Looked In The Mirror" and "What's Your Movie." The many guest artists (including altoist Arthur Blythe, tenor-saxophonist Bennie Wallace, Bob Malach on both alto and tenor and guitarist Kenny Burrell) are unnecessary frivolities but Allison's trio (with bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Tom Whaley) is tight and ably backs the unique singer-pianist.
The Mose Allison installment in Atlantic's Jazz Anthology series of 1970 is superior to most in that line simply on the grounds of time. Since Allison's songs were usually brief, Atlantic was able to fit 12 of them onto a single LP and thus provide a wider selection of his output, unlike others in that series that included only five or six tracks, making it serve as a pretty good capsule introduction to one of American music's most idiosyncratic individualists. Many of his most famous songs are here – "Your Mind Is on Vacation," "New Parchman," "I'm the Wild Man," "I Don't Worry About a Thing," and "Your Molecular Structure," along with covers like "Rollin' Stone" and a rushed live remake of his biggest "hit," Willie Dixon's "Seventh Son".
Luther Allison seemed to be on a roll when he died in 1998. He was back home after many years in Europe, and was winning awards and making a good living. This, his debut album, was cut in 1969 when he was 30 years old. He sang as if barely able to keep a lid on his emotion, and the elegance and precision of his guitar playing belied the fact that he had only been playing the instrument for a few years. If this debut can be faulted it's only in that it relies too heavily on overfamiliar standards like "Little Red Rooster," "Five Long Years," "Dust My Broom," "Sky Is Crying," and "Every Night About This Time." The CD reissue has been expanded with alternate takes and bonus cuts.
Recorded in August 1999, this live performance by Bernard Allison perfectly illustrates why he has quickly established himself as one of the most important blues artists of the 21st century. The son of legendary bluesman Luther Allison, Bernard commands his guitar to create a new style of blues that combines tradition with contemporary sounds such as funk, rock, and R&B.
When it comes to the blues, it seems like there are two different camps – those who are staunch authentic blues enthusiasts, and those who like their blues amped up with a decidedly rock approach. On his 1994 live release, No Mercy, singer/guitarist Bernard Allison certainly falls under the latter category. As with the majority of modern-day blues-rockers, Allison focuses mostly on covers of vintage blues tunes, with the odd original (or more accurately, one lone original – "Next Generation") thrown in for good measure. With Allison backed by a group of studio pros, No Mercy captures blues at its most well-honed – the complete opposite of the grittiness of the original bluesmen – especially on such tracks as the album-opening "Rock Me Baby" and "Breakin' Up Somebody's Home." Also included are a pair of tributes to Bernard's father, Luther Allison ("Change Your Way of Living" and "Help") as well as a reading of "Tin Pan Alley," which is very reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan's version (on his classic Couldn't Stand the Weather release). If you're an admirer of modern-day blues-rock, then No Mercy is certainly worth a spin.