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Mose Allison: Back in the (Studio) Saddle

R.J. DeLuke By

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Mose Allison, the singer/songwriter blues/jazz man from the Mississippi Delta, has reached the age of 82. He's packed into that lifetime some 60 years in the music business and on the road. He's still playing more than 100 club and concert dates a year, from New York to California, across the pond in England and elsewhere.

He's recorded steadily during those years, his albums all well received in the jazz community by critics and fans alike. But over the last decade or so, Allison became disenchanted with the recording industry and pretty much blew the whole thing off. In 2001, live recordings taped at the Pizza Express in London were released—The Mose Allison Chronicles: Live in London, volumes 1 and 2 (Blue Note)—that are outstanding representations of what you might hear from him in a nightclub. But studio work was out the window. Didn't care much, didn't need it.

Like the lyric in his song "Gettin' There":

I'm not disillusioned
I am not disillusioned
I'm not disillusioned ... but I'm gettin' there.


But that's changed. Enter Joe Henry, a singer/songwriter who is also a noted producer. (Ramblin' Jack Elliott's A Stranger Here just won the 2010 Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album, and Allen Toussaint's The Bright Mississippi earned a 2010 nomination.) Henry's a fan of Allison and the two spent time together a few years ago when they shared a bill at a concert in Dusseldorf, Germany. It was then that Henry began to feel he could pull something more out of the deep well of talent that is Mose Allison.

It took e-mails, some phone calls, and a lot of persistence on Henry's part. But persistence was justified and paid off. The result is The Way of the World, to be released on the Anti-label in March. It's a strong addition to the Allison library that provides backgrounds different from the norm. Henry doesn't alter Allison himself, but puts him in some new and agreeable contexts. Allison comes through it with flying colors.

"He kept at it. I finally said, why not?" says Allison in his succinct style of answering questions, with a slight drawl that comes from his hometown of Tipton, Mississippi, even though he left the Delta for New York in 1956. "I had 50 albums out on the market, includin' reissues and revamped stuff. None of them were sellin,' according to the statements I get from the record companies. So I figured, why not go with a producer and let him handle it and see what happens?

"I heard a lot of people recommendin' him. They said he was a good producer and all his records had sold. I figured I'll make one and see if he can sell that," adds Allison with a warm chuckle.

The recording took place over five days in July 2009 in California. The musicians weren't known to Allison, except for bassist David Piltch, who at the age of 16 was recruited to play a gig with him in Toronto years ago. Song selections were a mixture of familiar and obscure. But the familiar are very different versions. A couple of first collaborations include a song written by his daughter, Amy Allison, a New York City-based songwriter. He also sings a duet with her on another selection. (First collaboration on a Mose record, that is. He played piano on his own "Monsters of the Id" on Amy's Sheffield Streets album (Urban Myth, 2009), which Amy and Elvis Costello sang as a duet.)

On The Way of the World, "I did one of her tunes, 'Everybody Thinks You're an Angel,'" says Mose. "And she was glad I did it in waltz time. That's the way she did it. She was thinking I would go to 4/4 on it. But I did it the way she did it ... She's been doin' it a long time. She's been working jobs for 10 or 15 years. She writes real good songs. She's always writin' songs. ... We also sang a duet together. I've been lookin' for that tune, 'This New Situation,' for years. We finally found it. I knew that Buddy Johnson did it, but I didn't know that he wrote it. It's a good tune and it's got unique lines, as far as the two vocalists go. It went quite well. She did hers after I did mine. We did it the same afternoon, but I did my part and then she did her part."

Says Mose, "I did my thing and Joe Henry did his thing. We'll see what happens."

What happened includes the song "My Brain," a delightful reworking of an old gospel number called "This Train," which was reworked by Willie Dixon into the blues-rock hit "My Babe." It includes tasty acoustic slide guitar work by Greg Leisz, not in the vein of, say, Barney Kessel that one might expect on Allison's jazz, and not in a Reverend Gary Davis blues vein. It's a little country, weaving with Allison's bouncy two-handed piano. A good choice by Henry. The lyric is typically clever.

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