Still Tickin: Mose Allison and Graham Parker
Sometimes you get some song stuck in your head, and you just hope that it’s a good one. Right now, I have a good one and, no pun intended, it’s “My Brain,” a new Mose Allison tune.
I must admit that I have listened more to his daughter Amy Allison’s music than his own work (not that I wasn’t familiar with him). I also must admit that his new album The Way Of The World is a pure delight that makes me want to explore his work more.
Besides the marvelous “My Brain,” the disc is populated with a “cool little clutter” (to borrow one of Allison’s lyrics) of gems that he forges by masterfully melding jazz, blues and American Songbook pop ditties. His performance exudes a looseness that suggests a living room show from your favorite (and musical talented) uncle tossing off tunes filled with worldly-wise bon mots. In “Modest Proposal,” Allison suggests that people should “start making sense today” by taking the road of self-reliance over being dependent on organized religion. In “Ask Me Nice,” he asks that “if you can’t sympathize with me/please let me be,” as he is “just trying to swing my way through” life.
This disc, the first in a dozen years from the 82-year-old Allison, nicely matches his witty and wise originals with the covers choices, from Roosevelt Sykes’ funky “Some Right, Some Wrong” to London Wainwright’s “I’m Alright” (which fits Allison like a glove). Producer Joe Henry does his typically terrific job, lining up ace session men (drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist David Piltch and string wizard Greg Leisz) to back Allison, who still is a nimble piano player. Daughter Amy “appears” twice here. Mose covers his daughter’s wickedly insightful “Everybody Thinks You’re An Angel” and she duets with Dad on the old Buddy Johnson nugget “This New Situation.”
It all adds up to a wonderful offering from this renowned musician, who not only is “still tickin’” but also has made of a feisty disc that should stand as one of the year’s best.
Another old geezer who’s still tickin’ is Graham Parker. The one-time angry young man of ‘70s England now has settled in America and settled in a mature, yet still not sedate, musical existence. While the vitriol isn’t raging as much as when “Mercury Poisoning” was coursing through his veins, Parker remains a sharp-tongued singer-songwriter.
Parker performs a clever conceptual twist on his latest effort, Imaginary Television. He has penned themes to TV shows that he made up himself. Parker had been asked to write theme songs to two TV pilots; however, his submissions were rejected. Those two songs – “Always Greener” and “See Things My Way” – are included here. One of the fun parts of this disc is reading the liner notes that contain short descriptions of his TV shows. While Network Execs probably won’t be beating a path to his door, they do reveal his still caustic views of civilization.
Interestingly, these “theme songs” find Parker in a perkier mood than normal. “Always Greener” offers a musically chipper view of dysfunctional domestic situation. “1st Responder,” about car thieves, is a particularly punchy number while the eminently catchy “See Things My Way” boasts a jaunty reggae lilt. My favorite track is “Bring Me My Heart Again” is jazzy ditty that makes a nice companion piece – body part-wise - with Mose Allison’s “My Brain.”
Imaginary Television might not provide the powerful blasts that epitomized Parker’s early albums, but the modestly scaled disc definitely comes packed with nifty nuggets. Parker may have mellowed but he certainly isn’t mellow, and hopefully he will keep crafting tart but heartfelt discs like this one.
By Michael Berick