I often wonder if the offspring of famous parents find the tag “son/daughter of…” a millstone or a bonus; personally I don’t really care if the quality is there…and it is most certainly there with Bernard Allison as his live show captures highlights from his string of fine blues albums. Yes, he is the son of the great Luther Allison, but this man can and does stand on his own and plays some superb guitar (‘though not enough of it) on this 2019 performance released on the ever-reliable Ruf Records live series. The set-list has songs from his 1990 debut, The Next Generation through to his last studio outing, Let It Go…and there is a nod to his illustrious father with a version of Let’s Try It Again from Luther’s Life Is A Bitch recording.
Songs From The Road also comes with a DVD of the performance but, as it is difficult enough to translate sound onto the page, I’ll leave the concert footage to speak for itself, and you’ll have to buy his back catalogue if you want to find where the studio versions originate!
It opens with the recent Night Train and lays down an early indication of what is to follow with the whole band putting a quality backing to the subtle guitar before the first guitar solo which doesn’t disappoint: then, after an imaginative bridge, the guitars and sax have a play. This is a funky slice of blues that wouldn’t be my choice of the first song but it is still very good. Stay With Me Tonight is more my kind of opener with a Free with horns feel; it has that sparseness yet a depth that Kossoff and Co were so brilliant at. The vocals aren’t Rodgers but they fit the song…we then get a short sax solo that, to me, would have been better with the guitar a la the closing solo that is way too short, to keep the bluesiness that fills the song. It also demonstrates how adept the band is as the musicianship shines and almost belies the ‘live’ appellation.
You’re Gonna Need Me is traditional blues with some more of that sparseness that works well and benefits from some fine guitar runs behind the vocals. The nigh-on ten-minute running time gives a clue that we will get extended solos; they don’t disappoint…the guitars are slow, crafted and imaginative with the odd flashier flourish to keep them varied….the first one by Dylan Salfer shows how Bernard isn’t afraid to let the band members shine too. The second is a lesson in tone, variation and feel that makes this a great listen. I Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind picks up the pace and keeps the blues thread nicely as sax and guitars harmonise between verses before a guitar solo of yet more craft and skill…proper blues guitar with no superfluous notes, albeit way too short. The sax solo seems a bit higher in the mix but still works well. Call Me Momma, as with the other tracks, comes straight in without preamble…I assume most of the between songs intros were edited out; sometimes a shame as it takes a bit of the spark out of live performances. As an example, if the banter was edited out of all live albums we would never have had the immortal line, “can we have everything louder than everything else!” Anyway, it is a funky and irresistible song that could have been on that strange portmanteau release, Music From Free Creek with its looseness and early soul/R’n’B feel. The guitar in the background is a delightful and clever piece of picking and the same goes for the organ fills. The guitar solo arrives and has a slide approach that few use: Bernard doesn’t make it scream; he caresses the strings with it. The only problem for me is that it far too quickly gives way to a nice enough sax solo but I wanted lots more of the slide!
Feels Kinda Funny is funky too, but with a great blues riff anchoring it all…it also gives room for a first-class guitar solo that is too short! The plus is that there is a second solo that is wah’d and as good as the first, hence this is my favourite track. The neatly titled Cruisin’ For A Bluesin is proper R’n’B with a lilt and depth that has you joining in; the six-minute running time means we get an extended sax solo that uses the melodies cleverly and then a shorter but sweeter guitar solo that uses most of the neck and supplies variations and runs that keep it tasty. Same Ole Feeling is next and brings a hint of funky reggae in the neat guitar backline with the odd ‘talking’ interjection. Another sax solo does fit and, eventually, leads to a well-crafted guitar solo that also plays cleverly with the melodies and uses just enough notes. Now it’s time to acknowledge Bernard’s father as we get a version of Luther’s 1984 song, Let’s Try It Again. The soulful, slow blues is preserved and the guitar again speaks volumes behind the verses. The fact that it lasts nearly ten minutes gives the whole band time to shine through the sparse but expressive backing. This is a great song given gravitas and reverence and delivered beautifully. The sax gets the first solo and then Bernard and Dylan show their skills with some searing soloing that entertains and could/should have been much longer for me. Meet Me Halfway moves the rhythms back to a funkier leaning; it has lovely wah to put a bit extra into the phrasing and the inevitable sax solo doesn’t overpower. Backdoor Man is a mid-paced R’n’B but has a superb slide solo crafted into it that lifts it high above what it was in danger of becoming….if only it had lasted longer and replaced the sax solo that jarred for me after such a display. (There is some nice keyboard work too from a quality musician that isn’t credited in any PR I can find…so apologies to that player.)
Something’s Wrong is lovely blues with the neat and thoughtful guitar behind it all….especially the slide. The final track is called Slide Master…thankfully it lives up to its title as, after the standard blues intro, the slide tantalizes and then delivers a couple of solos that use motifs from some of the slide masters. A great closing number and one that, along with Feels Kinda Funny, will be the one I will return too most often.
This then is a very good live album that may be a bit mono paced but still has plenty to offer. The band is strong and intuitive and, although there was more sax than I was expecting, it still delivers some brilliant guitars too. It won’t be a ‘go-to’ album but will still be welcomed when it crops up on shuffle.
Bluesdoodles rating: Wonderful – A good live album expect lots of sax and less guitar
Stay With Me Tonight
You’re Gonna Need Me
I Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind
Call Me Momma
Feels Kinda Funny
Cruisin For A Bluesin
Same Ole Feeling
Let’s Try It Again
Meet Me Halfway
Bernard Allison: vocals, guitar
Dylan Salfer: guitar
George Moye: bass
Mario Dawson: drums
José James: sax, percussion
Recorded at Musiktheater Piano Club, Dortmund and mixed by Jim Gaines
(The iTunes run on track this time supplied the guitar master that is Bernie Marsden: this time from his early solo album, And About Time Too. You’re The One is typical of the era in which it was conceived and could have been on Trouble.)