Guitarist-vocalist Bernard Allison has inherited his father's energetic stage presence as well as his large European fan base. (Like his legendary father the late Luther Allison, Bernard lives in France.) Allison follows up his acclaimed American debut Keepin' the Blues Alive (1997) with a slicker, more mainstream effort clearly targeted at a bigger audience.
Bernard's last album reflected his years of training at the feet of his dad, his former bandleader Koko Taylor, and his pals Stevie Ray Vaughan and Edgar Winter. This new one displays Bernard's love of diverse popular styles. Allison mixes original blues tunes here with rock, funk and pop-soul fare.
Across the Water is a well-played collection with tight grooves, nasty guitar work, and a full-throated female chorus on backup vocals. Unfortunately, many of the songs are instantly forgettable, and they seem too manufactured. Consequently, blues traditionalists will be disappointed.
Allison's talent manages to rise above the heavily varnished surfaced on a number of cuts. With his wah-wah-inflected playing on "Meet Me Halfway," his blues-metal crunching on "Across the Water," and his ripping slide work on "Change Your Way of Living," he shows considerable versatility on the electric frets. He's also blessed with a pliable voice that can embrace a love ballad ("Love is Free") or belt out a propulsive rocker ("I Just Came Back to Say Goodbye"). For my money, though, the best cuts here a couple of blues numbers: "I Wanna Get You Back," a swampy tune with a catchy chorus, and "I've Been Down," a deep blues workout with some scorching guitar lines and heartfelt lyrics.
My feelings about this one are similar to my feelings about most of George Benson's radio friendly jazz: it's pleasant enough music, but I feel the artist is capable of far more. Just as I wish George Benson would play more mainstream jazz, I wish Bernard Allison would just wail on some blues.