Raised in the small Texas town of Novice, Randy McAllister developed his love of the drums from his firefighter father, who played the drums in local bands and allowed McAllister to join in. McAllister enrolled in the Air Force in his early 20’s and it was through contacts here that he also began playing and mastering the harmonica. Where he gained his skill and love of the ubiquitous washboard is not recorded. However, unlike many, he takes this much-maligned percussion instrument and successfully blends it into a number of his songs. Over the years he has honed his songwriting abilities and vocal prowess and has released 12 albums in the USA. Now he has teamed up with his touring band (the wonderfully named Scrappiest Band in the Motherland) to release his 13th, called Fistful Of Gumption.
Opening with C’Mon Brothers and Sisters, a southern rock flavoured track with a side order of soul, gives the uninitiated a handle on this bands abilities and musical leanings. It has a rocky Motown feel with a fast start and a slower bridge of pure soul. The backing singers add to this feel until we get a guitar solo in a distinct blues style. Time For The Sun To Rise, written by Earl King (perhaps better known for his earlier compositions such as Come On, which was covered by Hendrix and SRV, or Trickbag, made more famous by Robert Palmer), McAllister’s warm vocals wrap around a guitar progression that is indefinable yet captivating. A violin solo actually adds to the mystery of this track. Then we get a guitar soloing so fluid and, again, bluesy. None of these elements fit and yet they come together in a magical way. An instant favourite for me. Ride To Get Right is a fast-paced track that seems to have a background in Cajun and with the fiddle making it a square dance track for the super fit! A washboard provides suitable backing for yet another great guitar solo. Roll With The Flow starts with lovely guitar work and suggests a rocker, but when the vocals come in we are firmly in R&B territory, it also has the first showing of the keyboards with an organ chord backing. A true rocker next, My Stride showcases the ever-present, brilliant guitar work: this time, glorious slide guitar echoes the melody and lifts it all up. Background Singer is a high-speed journey with organ and guitar to the fore. The Oppressor is a soulful outlet for McAllister’s vocals and tasteful fiddle and guitar. Leave A Few Wrong Notes has a gospel feel behind the rhythm with solid vocals and piano. Band With The Beautiful Bus is a blues shuffle crossed with country influenced riffs. It comes together as a nice little blues number. The final track, East Texas Scrapper, is a great closer with its blues-rock riff, harmonica more delicious slide guitar and a time signature which shouldn’t work but does.
A really enjoyable album with, for me, the revelation being the guitar playing of Rob Dewan: no matter the style he carries it all off with aplomb. McAllister is a good, solid drummer and washboardist, and vocally has a timbre reminiscent of the great soul singers, although a lesser-known one keeps springing to my mind. I am referring to the underappreciated Jimmy Helms. The entire band gives a solid professional lustre to the album and, although it is not true blues fare, it is a rewarding listen.
SEVENdoodle paws out of TEN …
- C’mon Brothers and Sisters
- Time For Sun To Rise (Earl King Johnson)
- Ride To get Right (Tribute to Otis Redding and Earl King)
- Roll With The Flow
- My Stride
- Background Singer
- The Oppressor
- Leave A Few Wrong Notes
- Band With The Beautiful Bus
- East Texas Scrapper
Randy McAllister: vocals, harmonica, drums, washboard
Rob Dewan: guitar
Maya Van Nuys: fiddle
Matt Higgins / Jimmy Reed: bass
Andrea Wallace / Benita Arterberry-Burns: background vocals
Carson Wagner: piano and organ
Ron Thompson: drums
Gumption by the Fistful from Randy McAllister and the Scrappiest Band in the Motherland