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Luther Allison

Bad News is Coming

(Motown)

Scan through the liner notes of Bad News is Coming and you’ll start piecing together opinions of Luther Allison before ever hearing what it is he could do. Phrases like “fiery young Chicago blues guitarist”, “the meanest, most intense blues guitar in town”, and “blazing licks” might lead one to believe he was dancing circles around B.B. King in his day. Keeping that in mind now, pop in the disc and see if you still agree with such glowing words, courtesy of Bill Dahl. If the late bluesman Luther Allison is going to be remembered for anything by this reissue, it’s not likely to be his guitar licks. The playing he does comes in short bursts and fills and, for the most part, isn’t hogging the spotlight; his guitar, on the other hand, shares the stage with some truly incendiary vocals.


Only in his early 30s at the time this album was originally recorded, Allison is already showing off some of the same world-weary growling Buddy Guy is only beginning to tap into now. They are the perfect ying for his axe’s yang, as he takes turns screaming out lyrics—or sometimes just plain screaming—with some quick fingerwork on the strings. And while he comes up sounding his best on the completely funked-out “Ragged and Dirty” and slow crawler “Bad News is Coming,” the sole two originals on the album, it’s the rawness in his vocals that hold this one up in Show ‘n Tell and holler at you to stop eating the paste and “Look at me, dammit!” Many a blues guitarist will pass off their singing as a means to an end—Eric Clapton once claimed he didn’t like the sound of his own voice and would just play guitar if he had his way—but what Allison had was an art. It was nothing less than a honed skill, one few can lay claim to.


The guitar does show up, key in the abbreviated parts it plays in his takes on “The Little Red Rooster,” “Dust My Broom”, and the all-guitar (but somewhat lackluster) jaunt, Freddy King’s own “The Stumble”. His intentions on the latter are good and true, but tipping the scales at just two minutes and some-odd seconds does not a true guitar solo make. That’s not long enough for most to break a sweat.


As is the near standard with reissued albums these days, a few extra tracks are thrown in here as an attempt to sweeten the pot a bit. That they do, but with such masterful executions of songs like “Evil is Going On” and “Rock Me Baby” already in the line-up, your sweet tooth doesn’t need much more than what’s already on the plate.

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21 Mar 2010
Allison was one of the few blues artists who could transcend the genre.
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