(5 / 5)
Blues has become an odd beast. Wrestling desperately for any sort of success outside of the relatively small though impassioned niche, the records that are thrust upon the public these days under the label blues, are usually loud bar-room monstrosities. With as much classic rock thrown into the mix to appeal to as large a demographic as possible.
The essence of the blues has been trampled upon – it’s rich, earthy and hip simplicity and honest humour, smothered by loud guitar histrionics, dated hooks and a desperation for any serious radio play it can lay it’s hands on. It can sound desperate, like it’s trying WAY too hard.
That’s why the latest from 52-year-old Bernard Allison is such a relief and a wonderful listen. His 18th album, and a winning combination of blues-funk, overlaid with Allison’s incredibly world class and effortless vocals, it’s a record of immense charm that doesn’t sound like it’s one long sales pitch. It pulls off the trick of making you come back for more.
Chicago-born Bernard is of course, the son of the late and legendary blues man Luther Allison, but he most definitely more than proves that while he may have the Luther genes, Bernard is his own man here.
He took up the guitar at 10, and played on his father’s live album when Bernard was only 13. A week after graduating high school, he joined blues diva Koko Taylor’s band. Both Johnny Winter and Steve Ray Vaughan recognised his skill and potential, and mentored the hungry young blues buck.
This is his eighth album for Ruf, since his debut “Funkifino” for this German label in 1995. He released a studio album in 2005 and a live record in 2006, before leaving Ruf to record for other labels, including Jazzhaus. So after a 12-year absence, he has re-signed to Ruf for this album.
Produced by Jim Gaines, a veteran star producer who has had a hand in a fair few best-selling Ruf releases these past few years, there was a conscious effort to go back to basics with this recording project. As Bernard states: “We made the decision to not flood the CD with keyboards or horns, to go back to the true basic rhythm section sound – and to show more mature song writing.”
Well they’ve succeeded. Bernard penned eight of the tracks on the record. Standout tracks of the dozen include “Crusin For A Bluesin’ “, “Backdoor Man”, “Blues Party” and the Mel London-penned “Look Out Mabel”. He co-wrote “Leave Your Ego” with Ronnie Baker Brooks. He covers Brook Benton’s “Kiddio” complete with sax solo from Jose Ned James.
Paris-based Bernard delivers lead vocals, guitars and Hammond B3 organ, and is joined by the crack band of John T. McGhee on rhythm guitar; George Moye on bass and Mario Dawson on drums, percussion and backing vocals.
The most personal cuts here must surely be the penultimate track, “You’re Gonna Need Me” and the closer, “Castle”, both songs from his late father, an affectionate homage paid to the legend, but very much done Bernard’s way.
A rare five star rating from me. Deservedly; because this album is quality, classy, authentic and relevant; and doesn’t try to be anything other than a terrific blues listen. You can tell from the opening track to the final notes, that this was a labour of love and is performed direct from the heart and the soul.
The way real blues music always has been and always should be; not from the memory or chasing sales/chart places and the sound of a cash register…
By Giles Robson
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’