Recorded between 1963 and 1968, four of Mose Allison's Atlantic LPs are placed on one two-CD package, presented with their original liner notes and remastered sound: Swingin' Machine, The Word From Mose, Wild Man On The Loose, and I've Been Doin' Some Thinkin'. On the first session, Allison used a quintet; the others are with bass and drums only. Allison's piano style is lively and forged out of boogie-woogie, stride piano, and the blues; he likes to make mention of the honky-tonks and small-town joints that influenced his early development. The four sessions presented here are comprised mostly of the pianist's compositions, all of which generally tell a story and supply spirited piano interludes to reinforce their message.
Mose Allison's storytelling, romping piano playing, and likable humor are unforgettable. On Swingin' Machine the leader is backed by trombonist Jimmy Knepper, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Reider, bassist Addison Farmer, and drummer Frankie Dunlop. "Do It," "Saritha," "So Rare," and "Promenade" are instrumental numbers, offering ample solo time from Reider's tenor saxophone, Knepper's trombone, Allison's piano, Farmer's acoustic bass, and Dunlop's "fours."
Ellington's familiar standard "I Ain't Got Nothin' But The Blues" allows the usual theme, "since my baby left town," and features Allison the pianist's flying fingers, which contrast with his smooth-tongued singing style. The piano oftentimes delivers more of the story's true meaning than the singer's profound lyrics.
On The Word From Mose, Allison is supported by bassist Ben Tucker and drummer Ron Lundberg. Deep bass notes pounded out on the piano supplement the storytelling by the gentleman from Tippo, Mississippi who mentions in these liner notes that his influences include Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Percy Mayfield. Muddy Waters' classic blues "Rollin' Stone," Mayfield's "Lost Mind," and Allison's originals flesh out a session of tracks with vocals.
Wild Man On The Loose features Allison backed by bassist Earl May and drummer Paul Motian. "Night Watch" and "Never More" are instrumentals with Allison stretching it out on the piano; May walks the bass and Motian accompanies with brushes for both slow, steady blues-derived numbers. The trio shows its strength on "Power House," which omits singing in favor of forceful syncopation contained in solos by piano, bass, and drum "fours." "War Horse," as well, features powerful, driven instrumental work done up-tempo with a share of the spotlight for each of the three.
On I've Been Doin' Some Thinkin' Allison is backed by bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Bill Goodwin. The slow expressive "You Are My Sunshine" is a clear example of what makes Mose Allison different: The tune is so familiar to all that any variation from the written melody becomes immediately obvious. The singer offers it in his own special way, with a traditional country blues singer's approach, yet with inflections few artists can offer. Allison's unique singing style and his rambunctious piano artistry go hand in hand with his creative and pointed lyrics. An example of his tongue-in-cheek methods comes from "Everybody Cryin' Mercy," with its message about social hypocrisy:
I can't believe the things I'm seein'.
I wonder `bout some things I've heard.
Everybody cryin' "Mercy,"
When they don't know the meaning of the word.
A bad enough situation
Is sure enough gettin' worse.
Everybody cryin' "Justice,"
Just as long as there's business first.
Elsewhere, the highly rhythmic "Look What You Made Me Do," and the modified "Bo Diddley" beat driving "Your Molecular Structure," lend an air of excitement. "Look What You Made Me Do" contains one of Allison's most adventurous piano interludes. Recommended.