Mose Allison has been playing music professionally for 50 years, and not just occasionally. His first gig was six nights a week at a club in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and that’s a pace he has continued to keep up. Despite that, you never get what seems like a canned performance from him. It’s all there in every performance — the wry humor, the blues and jazz-soaked piano, the history lesson packed into an enjoyable performance of songs selected from a huge bag of compositions.
Allison has never been huge here in the States, although popular musicians who recognize his talent frequently tout him. Many of these popular artists are from the British Isles — Pete Townshend, Bill Wyman, John Mayall, Elvis Costello, and Van Morrison, to name but a few. One reason for this is the famous British and Irish penchant for American blues, jazz, and R&B, but there’s another reason, too, I suspect. Britain and Ireland are more literate societies, much more interested in and based on a facility with language and the ability to use it with wit and intelligence, which is certainly a trademark of Mose Allison’s songwriting. That may be why Allison has been playing 40 gigs a year in the city of London alone, and is still drawing crowds today just as he always has.
Coming from Tippo, Missisippi, the heart of American roots music country, Mose doesn’t really see blues and jazz as separate entities; in his mind the two should never have been separated. He demonstrates this by not only writing songs that utilize jazz structures while lyrically and emotionally mining blues territory. He can play Duke Ellington’s “Lucky So and So” or “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me”, then turn around and offer “Baby Please Don’t Go” all with equal ease and equal authenticity.
I’ve been doin’ some thinkin’
’bout the nature of the universe.
Found out things are gettin’ better,
It’s people that are getting worse.
Those are the opening lines of “Just Like Livin'” as well as of The Mose Chronicles, Live in London, Volume 2. Blue Note Records released Volume 1 last year, and it is nominated for a Grammy. Mose has been nominated twice before but has never won, so here’s hoping the third time’s a charm. Many may find the sentiments in Moses’ songs to be somewhat cynical, but the fact is there is probably not a less cynical songwriter around. Though the lyrics may come across as dour on the page, Allison softens them with his delivery, a delivery that demonstrates much more humor than disappointment. The human condition is damn funny, he seems to be saying, so lighten up.
There aren’t that many surprises with Mose, and very few on this disc, particularly if you have heard Volume 1. Like that release, this one was recorded at London’s Pizza Express, where Allison plays six weeks a year, six nights a week, one of the few venues where he can still take up such a residence. When someone is as much of a craftsman as Allison, the pleasure comes not from surprises or novelty, but from the absolute relaxed swing of his singing and playing and the realization that he’s created a vast body of perfectly crafted songs, songs that can be reminiscent of pop performers like Dylan or Elvis Costello as well as jazz and blues performers. While it might be nice to hear the occasional horn solo, as one does on some of Moses’ studio recordings, his backup group here is sympathetic and provides some nice moments (especially guitarist Jim Mullen).
Taken together, Volumes 1 and 2 of The Mose Chronicles: Live In London provide a nice career retrospective for both long time fans and those not familiar with much of Allison’s work. He performs compositions going back to 1959, including such favorites as “Molecular Structure”, “Your Mind’s on Vacation” and “One of These Days”. The best thing is, this swinging septuagenarian is far from finished. One suspects he’ll be writing his songs and performing up to six nights a week, doing what he’s done for 50 years without care for fad or fashion, for some time to come. Good luck on that Grammy, Mose.