Bernard Allison – Highs & Lows
I smell smoke. Someone must be playing Bernard Allison’s “So Excited,” from his new LP Highs & Lows (Drops Feb 25–Ruf Records). This is one fiery 11-cut blues LP (his 16th). Blues aficionados know that Minneapolis-based Bernard is the youngest son of the Chicago blues great the late Luther Allison. Luther played with many renowned blues artists.
The unacquainted should know his son Bernard (vocals/lead-rhythm guitar/organ guitar) carries on respectfully in the blues tradition. In order to capture the music, he went back to an old haunt – the Bessie Blue Studios in TN. Hooked up with fabled producer & career-long collaborator Jim Gaines (Huey Lewis & Santana).
After a 3-decade career & relationships with Johnny Winter & Stevie Ray Vaughan – Bernard revitalized his blues through the atmosphere that TN studio provided. The songs are about everything that can be thrown at a man.
“So Excited,” starts in a hyper-modernized well-recorded diesel-fueled blues that surround Bernard. A solid bass-heavy tone supports his guitar as it soars. His voice is blues sumptuous in its tonality. It’s the blues, not easy-listening crooner music. The tune is blues-basic but once you mess with the genre you dilute it. Bernard knows what’s what. He doesn’t showcase with an ear to what’s already been done. He puts new threads on the old man.
“Highs & Lows,” has a little more soulful singing & funk-lite punctuating lines but maintains a good musical identity. Bernard wrote 8, his late father wrote 2 & producer Jim Gaines has one.
Musicians: George Moye (bass), Dylan Salfer (rhythm guitar), Steve Potts (drums), Jose Ned James (sax/tambourine), Toby Lee Marshall (Hammond B3/Wurlitzer Piano), & guests Colin James (vocals/rhythm & lead guitar on “My Way Or The Highway”) & Bobby Rush (vocals/harmonica on “Hustler”).
I’m not a big fan of slow blues. Tends to dangerously hover near middle-of-the-road music. But Bernard sings “Strain On My Heart,” with restrained easy listening assurance then adds Jose Ned Jones’ sax to the mix. The song’s excellent. This actually is a good atmospheric laid back vintage type blues with a pinch of jazz. The backup voices decorate with an old 60s soulful unified expressive Temptations vocalizing. Works well.
“My Way Or The Highway,” is a good blues song. Joined by Colin James (who plays lead guitar). More traditional in inception is “Side Step,” with its aching plod, guitar accentuations, snap of the snare & superb Allison vocal.
Bobby Rush adds harmonica/vocals on the noir-type blues with rain-slick streets, neon signs, dark doorways, predator horns & funky guitar on “Hustler.” Potent & satisfying. There’s much to appreciate since none is sweetened with saccharine. The musicians are tight, have rhythmic punch & cohesion.
1st color photo: Jim Hartzell. 2nd photo: Lisa Gray. The 11-cut 45-minute CD: Available @ Amazon & https://www.bernardallison.com/