Tribute Celebrates Everything Cool and Hot about Mose Allison’s Music
He was the hippest of the hip, a master of understatement, the epitome of cool. It’s even cooler that If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison was curated by his daughter Amy and benefits the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a nonprofit that helps musicians in need of medical care or financial aid.
Allison made his musical points via his unpretentious, plainspoken style that blended genres so skillfully you were often unaware of when one had given way to another then flowed back again. His lyrical points were carefully crafted zingers that he slipped in via a low-key delivery that made you pay attention to his quiet but profound takes on how to comport oneself through life.
Taj Mahal kicks off the tribute with an Allison classic, “Your Mind Is On Vacation.” It’s low key for Taj, but a little more punched up than Allison’s 1976 original. The lyrics seem more relevant in today’s political climate: “You know if talk were criminal / you’d lead a life of crime / because your mind is on vacation and your mind is working overtime.”
Iggy Pop gets the title cut, but what he does with it is not what you’d expect from him. It’s remarkably well restrained, one of the most interesting things Iggy has ever done. Of course it’s not in the same musical universe as Allison’s original: Leron Thomas’ contributions on trumpet, keyboards, and midi make this thing over into a Sun Ra-drenched extraterrestrial excursion with Iggy narrating like Lou Reed in “Walk On the Wild Side”-mode, cautioning the listener, “Don’t mess around with dope.”
Dave and Phil Alvin attempt to upend “Wild Man on the Loose,” Dave’s guitar slashing holes in the melody Allison’s piano had careened through on the original. But Phil keeps it in the ballpark with a nearly perfect replication of Allison’s vocal.
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite take Allison’s tinkly original “Nightclub” cabaret setting and drag it into the swamp, with a sinister hoodoo backbeat shuffling along behind and Musselwhite’s harp sounding like a lost soul mired in the muck. It’s the coolest makeover on the record, enigmatic and slinky as its originator.
There’s lots more cool stuff on the accompanying DVD, Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues, an autobiographical journey narrated by Allison himself with help from admirers including Van Morrison, Pete Townsend, Bonnie Raitt, and Keb’Mo’. It’s a great package that pays homage to the master of cool.