Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mose Allison

  • Greatest Hits [Prestige, 1988] A-
  • The Way of the World [Anti-, 2010] B+
  • I'm Not Talkin': The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1971 [BGP, 2016] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Greatest Hits [Prestige, 1988]
Always eager to set young martini users on any path of righteousness they'll take, I duly note these piano-tinkling blues. Probably not obscure enough, I know--the goddamn Who covered "Young Man Blues," and it was Old Man Mose himself who taught middle-class white boys about "Seventh Son." What's more, his catalogue remains hopeless after three compilations--one an absurd minibox containing three mediocre CBS albums, another a two-CD Rhino job with liner notes from Kitschmaster Irwin Chusid, who wouldn't mention all the pretentious over-the-hill drivel on disc two even if he was working for free. That leaves this modest item, remastered with the wrong bonus tracks in 1988, which I first heard in 1963 and eventually bought for under two bucks (and if you want something to be nostalgic about, that price is it). Instrumentally, Allison was an accompanist who sold himself as a soloist, but when he bent his insouciant drawl to the black pop songwriting of his '40s youth, he articulated a unique Ole Miss cool that paralleled rockabilly's working-class heat. Trio-era Nat King Cole as riverboat gambler, say. Fun without slumming. A-

The Way of the World [Anti-, 2010]
At 82, Allison has written a great song, which may seem odd given that it deals with neuron degeneration, and found an ideal producer, which is not how I usually describe Joe Henry. Ben Sidran offered him a sympathetic ear at Blue Note too, especially on 1997's Gimcracks and Gewgaws. But Sidran is a jazz loyalist with a songwriting sideline who brought out the player in him. Henry is a singer-songwriter with a jazz jones who conceived settings that would serve the lyrical gift that made Allison famous. "My Brain" is as right for Peter Townshend in 2010 as "Young Man Blues" was for Roger Daltrey in 1969. "Modest Proposal" and "The Way of the World" bring cosmic wisdom down to earth. "I'm Alright" is a big thumbs-up for anyone who flosses. B+

I'm Not Talkin': The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1971 [BGP, 2016]
This Mississippi farmboy turned US serviceman turned Louisiana State English-philosophy grad turned jazz pianist-singer-songwriter died November 15, four days past an 89th birthday that couldn't have been the happiest for a Southern progressive. His relaxed drawl and time made him Sun Records' contemporary in the South's white-man-sings-the-blues sweepstakes, plus he could write. But because he identified jazz he didn't get an all-vocal album until the 1963 Prestige comp fMose Allison Sings, soon a totem for young aesthetes like Pete Townshend and Bonnie Raitt. From a base of Prestige standards like the Who cover "Young Man's Blues" and the John Mayall-etc. cover "Parchman Farm," this fortuitously timed new selection mines his uneven late-'60s Atlantic book, which has plenty to offer--the philosophical "Jus' Like Livin'," the physiological "Your Molecular Structure," the reassuring "You Can Count on Me," the endangered "Back on the Corner," the paranoid "Foolkiller," the strategically taciturn "I'm Not Talkin'" itself. My favorite is "Western Man," which begins: "Western man had a plan / And with his gun in his hand / Free from doubt / Went right out / On the world." Pretty ominous if you know what's coming. But he managed to give it a happier ending than he lived to see. A-