Mose Allison was indeed a unique artist. Growing up in rural Mississippi, his original songs were steeped in the blues music he heard in his early years. Once he made to New York City in 1956, he was playing piano with jazz saxophone legends like Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. His intricate piano work pushed the limits of the standard blues fare, yet jazz fans often dismissed his work as too simple and too “country”. Allison’s laid-back vocal style allowed him to bring plenty of southern charm and insights to his often humorous examinations of life.
Blues fans certainly will recognize a number of Allison’s songs. Bonnie Raitt did a exemplary rendition of “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy,” while the Who made “Young Man Blues” a feature of their live shows. One of his best known classics, “Parchman Farm,” borrowed the title from a Bukka White song, relating Allison’s thoughts on existence at the infamous Mississippi prison farm. The Yardbirds, with Jeff Beck on guitar, were the first to record a cover of “I’m Not Talking”.
According to the brief liner notes included on this Record Store Day vinyl release , Allison only recorded one album from 1973 through 1981, making this album a rare glimpse of his artistry at that point in his career. Backed by Tom Rutley on upright bass and Jerry Granelli on drums, Allison delvers an inspired performance over six of his originals and seven covers. He gives Percy Mayfield’s “Lost Mind” a jaunty run-through with Rutley’s bass featured prominently in the mix. “Wildman On The Loose” is a fast-paced ode to grabbing all the gusto you can, complete with Allison’s fleet-fingered piano work. Next, he unveils a witty tribute to the female form on “Your Molecular Structure,” again with intricate piano playing over a solid rhythmic foundation.
The audience at the Showboat Lounge in Silver Springs, Maryland undoubtedly enjoyed two more originals, with “It Feels So Good” rolling along on Rutley’s impressive bass groove while “Swingin’ Machine” is rapid-fire, swinging affair with the trio delivering some exciting instrumental interplay. The group digs into two Willie Dixon songs, starting with “I Live The Life I Love,” which gets a spirited take complete with cascading piano runs from the leader. The classic “Seventh Son,” first recorded by Willie Mabon, finds Allison demonstrating the extent of his impressive piano skills, as Granelli pushes him along every step of the way.
Listed as an Allison composition, “Wild Man” is actually a cover that finds Allison having fun with the increasingly boastful lyrics, the opposite of his reserved nature offstage. Both members of the rhythm team get a turn in the spotlight, a moment of glory both take full advantage of, then Allison brings the song home with some inspired keyboard playing. Delving into the point where blues and country intersect, Allison covers the Hank Williams classic ‘Hey Good Lookin’,” taking the song uptown for a spin in the bright lights culminating in a swirling piano interlude that is a definite highlight.
On “If You’re Goin’ Up To The City,” Allison offers some advice that may have sprung from personal experiences, warnings for those making the move north as he did. The ending slows into a decided blues vein, with two final pieces of hard-spun wisdom. The closing tune is another top flight Allison composition, “Your Mind Is On Vacation,” which remains as relevant today as it was when it was written. This version has a harder edge than the original, perhaps because Allison was already realizing how prophetic his lyrics were. The trio really dig in between the verses, then Allison ends the proceedings with one final emphatic declaration.
The sound quality is what you might expect for a live recording in this era. The notes do not provide information of the source of the material. The high end is lacking, especially when it comes to Granelli’s cymbals. The piano tones come through loud and clear, as does Allison’s vocals. It is a noteworthy addition to the Mose Allison discography, certainly a fine starting point for anyone who has yet to discover this under-appreciated artist.