Bernard Allison – In The Mix (2015)

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He’s a chip off the ol’ block, and when that ol’ block is the late, legendary bluesman Luther Allison, that’s no toss-off phrase. The elder Allison had been a powerful presence on the blues scene since the 60s, known for his legend live shows, impassioned, soulful vocals and Chicago blues updated with touches of modern RnB, rock and funk. Those are some of the same traits passed down to Bernard, whose own recording career as a leader is now twenty-five years strong.

In The Mix (March 17, 2015 via Jazzhaus Records), Allison first studio outing since 2010’s The Otherside, displays the younger Allison’s own diverse talents as a more than capable singer traversing a variety of styles within the blues orbit. Despite the variety, In The Mix is held together tightly largely thanks to Allison’s reformed backing band (George Moye, bass; Mario Dawson, drums; Mark “Muggie” Leach, organ and piano) and an equal emphasis on his vocals, guitar and his treatment of a balanced mixture of originals and covers.

“Five Long Years” isn’t the Eddie Boyd song that everyone from Junior Parker to Buddy Guy to Eric Clapton have taken turns making famous, but this Colin James creation is a fierce soulful rocker instead; Allison lets loose on some searing guitar lines in the instrumental break. The sweet soul number he wrote with his mother Fannie Mae Allison “Call Me Momma” is a platform for his vocal style, nuanced and smooth. His father’s tune “Move From The Hood” is a blues shuffle with chord changes similar to “Messin’ With The Kid” but a head that adds an extra twist and a nice showcase for Allison’s slide technique picked up from the late, great Johnny Winter. His committed vocal frames the RnB ballad “Tell Me Who,” capped by Jose Ned James’ smoky sax solo. James’ contributions on these first four songs act as a counterweight to Allison’s guitar to keeps these songs grounded in the RnB side of the blues.

Leach does much of that work, too, especially where James isn’t around, starting with the Southside Chicago stomp “Something Wrong” (where he also lends a little piano) and the nocturnal B3 drenched groove of “Lust For You,” a tune that features tasty guitar licks from Allison.

Freddie King’s “I’d Rather Be Blind” is given a funk treatment, especially from the unusual, between-the-beat rhythm from Dawson; Allison’s vocal here might be fluid but his guitar lines sting. “Set Me Free” is straight-up blues more than the other tracks, featuring a spicy organ solo and some nasty-assed guitar.

After nearly five long years without new studio recording, Allison returns with nothing too fancy but everything rock solid. In The Mix is a mighty good way to take in the all-around skills of one of the better bluesmen of the last couple of decades.

What’s in a name? In this case, a lot.

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