Arts Desk

Mose Allison: A Weekend at Blues Alley

"I'm a certified senior citizen/Got Florida on my mind/I won't even mess/With checkers or chess/Just take me to the place where they bump 'n' grind...."

Though not characterized by the bump 'n' grind, Sunday's 10 p.m. show at Blues Alley drew a rapt and well-dressed crowd of LP nerds, precocious twenty-somethings, and couples in search of an atmospheric canoodle to see Mose Allison, a man whom Pete Townshend once dubbed "the Blues Sage."

Mose knows, as the saying goes. And more to the point, he still puts on one hell of a show.

It is now 50 years since Allison's first release—the groovy Back Country Suite, with which Richard Fariña fell in love—and 80 since his birth, but heck if he ain't still the cat of cats. His elegant blues (or is it demotic jazz?) is as sharp as ever, his swagger intact, his delivery sly but unaffected (few bluesman can pull off a phrase like "your little psychic walkabout"). Joined by Tony Martucci on drums and Tommy Cecil on bass, Allison stuck almost exclusively to originals, and his few covers tended less toward Nat "King" Cole smoothness and more toward the down-home stuff of Lefty Frizzell ("If You've Got the Money...") and Muddy Waters (a fantastic "Catfish Blues").

Punctuating each quip with a sneaky piano lick, Mose kept the interstitial passages jumping with manic rhythm in the right hand over the left hand's open fifth/stride patterns—funky enough to make middle-aged white cats in wraparound shades convulse with (or against) the music, but not so frenetic as to threaten the breeziness of lyrics like "If silence was golden/You couldn't raise a dime."

There's something tremendously boyish about an 80-year-old singing this stuff. Allison has always been an insistent naïf (with a nod, of course, and a wink), but now he seems doubly so. Sure, he occasionally finds himself a bit short of breath, and his upper register may have shriveled somewhat; but the sheer delight he takes in his own contradictions seems more exuberant, more self-evident—unshriveled, one might say, by the miles and the years. A "certified senior citizen" by his own account, Allison has broadened the facetious strain in his blues to make old age seem pretty cool.

In other words, the fellow who taught "Young Man's Blues" to the Who certainly seems to be enjoying the fruits of his own senility.

It's not just the ever-present half-smile, not just his private scat (which through the years has morphed from a Neal Cassady-type exhortation to a vaguely apprehensive creaking sound), not just an evergreen predilection, in both composition and interpretation, for the zippy's the reactive dissonance of the old man singing the songs of youth, the wise guy playing the innocent, the white boy stealing the blues.

Parchman Farm:

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Young Man's Blues:

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Set list, and recommended discs, below.

Oh, and here's a video of "Mind on Vacation":

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Sunday's 10 p.m. setlist:

  • "Just Like Livin'"
  • "Fool's Paradise"
  • "Swingin' Machine"
  • "Days Like This"
  • "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time"
  • "Trouble In Mind"
  • "Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me"
  • "Certified Senior Citizen"
  • "Ever Since I Stole the Blues"
  • "How Does It Feel? (To Be Good-Looking)"
  • "What Do You Do After You Ruin Your Life"
  • "Middle-Class White Boy"
  • "That's The Stuff You Gotta Watch"
  • "Hello There, Universe"
  • "Your Mind is on Vacation"
  • "Catfish Blues"
  • "This Ain't Me" (encore)

Recommended discography:

  • Back Country Suite (1957)
  • The Seventh Son (1972)
  • Middle-Class White Boy (1982)

...and, of course, the totally fun Greatest Hits (Prestige), to which Christgau gives the most lukewarm A- in CG history. Though it does overlap prodigiously with The Seventh Son.

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