(5 / 5)
Bernard Allison has a lot to live up to. His famous surname. Following in his legendary father’s blues shoes was always going to come with high expectations and a wee bit of pressure, perhaps.
But fear not. This Mr Allison obviously inherited some great genes from his late and great father Luther.
Legendary father or not, Bernard is an acclaimed and respected blues artist in his own right. Singer, songwriter and axe man: Bernard is the business.
He’s dropped some tasty recordings, but it is live that he is most comfortable and usually, fire extinguishers may be necessary as Bernard Allison is no different to Luther, in as much as both were incendiary with an audience in front of them and a band behind them.
I must admit, I tend to steer clear of most live albums as they are often dull as dishwater, giving the impression it’s a contractual obligation or they have run out of original songs for another studio album.
Or it is about as honest as a used car salesman when it comes to representing what happened on the night, rather than the zillion overdubs and digital skulduggery employed post gig.
But on “Songs From The Road”, like most of the releases in this Ruf Records series, the live audio is spot on and the performance really special.
We get 13 tracks on the CD and 16 on the DVD. Produced by the great Jim Gaines (loved his “Gatemouth” work), and the DVD produced by record label boss Thomas Ruf, who was Luther’s manager and formed the record label back in 1994.
It’s a sizzling mix of blues, rock, r&b, funk and some strong original material from this seasoned US blues man.
Some 23 years after his dad’s passing, Bernard is still keeping the Allison family name in lights and staying true to his father’s mission statement: “Leave your ego, play the music, love the people”.
The gig we get to be part of here was recorded at Dortmund’s Musiktheater Piano Club last October, accompanied by legendary US producer Jim Gaines who took charge of the mix.
It’s raw and it’s as real as it comes. Bernard and his crack band feed off the excitement and energy of the audience, and vice versa to make this a dynamic live recording.
After a 30-year solo career, Bernard has a thick back catalogue of songs and his fans got something from most of his album releases, captured on this record and DVD.
From his debut album, 1990’s “The Next Generation”, and his latest release, last year’s smashing “Let it Go”, and from albums between the two.
Tracks from the current record include “Night Train”, “Cruisin For A Bluesin”, “Same Ole Feeling”, “Backdoor Man” and soulful slow blues “You’re Gonna Need Me”. Some of his strongest and most mature songwriting on the latest album, for sure.
He dug deep to come up with tracks from his 1998 “Times Are Changing” album, including the fab funk of “I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, and he didn’t forget the 2000 release “Across The Water”, and tracks such as “Feels Kinda Funny” and “Meet Me Half Way”.
He chose the title cut from the 2002 album “Storms Of Life”, before dipping into 2005’s “Higher Power” album and 2015’s “In The Mix”.
Bernard pays respectful tribute to his late father with a track from Luther’s 1984 corker, “Life Is A Bitch” and the song “Let’s Try Again”.
Bernard more than holds his own and has done for his entire career, something to back up his famous surname and the achievements of his beloved daddy. He’s come a long way since making a name for himself with Koko Taylor’s band.
The man’s vocals are as skilled as his guitar licks here. Palpable chemistry between the boss and his chosen band of Dylan Salfer on guitar, George Moye on bass, Mario Dawson on drums and Jose James on sax’ and percussion.
The arrangements are key here, as many of the songs his fans will know from studio albums have been fine-tuned and tweaked arrangement-wise to craft them into tight fits for his present band to grab hold of and make their own.
Risky business to fix what ain’t bust, especially when you mess with classic songs that fans probably know better than the artists does. But….not an issue here. All is well.
Worth saying that this record shines a spotlight on The Bernard Allison Band as a unit, and is not just a vehicle for a bunch of Bernard Allison solos with an anonymous backing band.
Chicago-born, 55-year-old Bernard Allison is surely one of the most exciting blues men of our time, but he is often overlooked when it comes to those “Best Of” and “Greatest” lists, and the awards and accolades given out year in, year out to the same old suspects.
Some of whom ain’t earned their stripes yet or are well past their sell-by date. Mentioning no names! Maybe this live release will remind people that skill, talent and sheer class is indeed in the blood and that this cool cat deserves to be recognised far more than he is outside of the European blues touring circuit.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’