A wily scribe once dubbed Mose “the William Faulkner of jazz,” an allusion to his Deep South literary roots. But though Allison’s a proud son of Mississippi, the comparison isn’t quite accurate. Mose himself feels a closer kinship with literary renegades like Ambrose Bierce and Kurt Vonnegut. And that similarly sardonic quality is reflected in his biting lyrics here on such dark ditties as “I Know You Didn’t Mean It,” “Ask Me Nice,” “Some Right, Some Wrong,” and “Modest Proposal” (an indictment of religiosity named after the provocative Jonathan Swift essay and that bears the refrain: “Let’s give God a vacation, he must be tired of it all/ Rigging the game, taking the blame/24 hours a day on call/He gave us the power to reason, he put the spark in the clay/ So let’s let him go for a season and start making sense today”).
Mose burst onto the scene back in 1957 with his laconic, ingratiating Southern charms and vaguely Monkish, slightly Albert Ammons-esque piano style back on his Prestige debut, Back Country Suite. That breakthrough album contained the anthemic “Young Man Blues,” a defiant number later covered by the Who on 1970’s Live at Leeds. The Brits, in particular, latched onto Mose as something of an iconic figure. The Yardbirds had covered Allison’s “I’m Not Talking” on their 1965 album For Your Love while the Clash later covered “Look Here” on 1980’s Sandanista! Elvis Costello delivered faithful renditions of “Your Mind is On Vacation” on 1985’s King of America and “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy” on 1995’s Kojak Variety. In 1996, Van Morrison released an entire album of Mose covers entitled Tell Me Something: The Music of Mose Allison. And in a recent 60- minute BBC documentary entitled “Ever Since I Stole the Blues,” Pete Townshend offers this personal testimony about the man from Tippo, Mississippi: “Without Mose, I wouldn’t have written ‘My Generation.’”
On The Way of the World, his first studio recording in 12 years, Allison is given the royal treatment by producer Joe Henry, who recently resuscitated the careers of R&B icons Solomon Burke, Mavis and Betty LaVette, and country legends Merle Haggard and Porter Wagoner. With creative contributions from Greg Leisz on acoustic, electric, and Weissenborn lap steel guitars, David Piltch on upright bass, Jay Bellrose on drums and percussion, Anthony Wilson on electric guitar, and Walter Smith III on tenor sax, Henry paints a stark, Tom Waitsian backdrop on the funereal dirge “Let It Come Down,” and provides shuffling accompaniment for the 82-year-old eternal bohemian hipster on “My Brain,” a wry re-invention of “My Babe” by Willie Dixon, who in turn had borrowed the melody and basic structure from the gospel number “This Train (Is Bound For Glory).”
Mose performs a first-ever duet with his daughter, singer Amy Allison, on the Buddy Johnson tune “This New Situation,” which they harmonize in fifths. And he also delivers with typically droll humor on one of Amy’s tunes, the lovely waltz-time “Everybody Thinks You’re an Angel,” which proves that sarcasm and incisively witty wordplay may indeed be a genetic trait.
Recorded with brilliant clarity by Ryan Freeland at The Garfield House in South Pasadena, California, The Way of the World is perhaps the best display of Mose’s acerbic wit and oddly affecting syncopated style since his 1976 opus, Middle Class White Boy.