Mose Allison: The Complete Atlantic/Elektra Albums 1962-1983

Six-CD box collects 12 albums, or 124 tracks, of the pianist's dry social observation and distinctive blues, bop and country confection


At first (and even second) glance this is a daunting box set of recordings. It contains 12 previously issued Allison albums with a total of 124 tracks (including some remake titles), reprising an inventive and productive 20-year period in his already distinguished career.

Immaculately packaged, with an informative booklet, it includes full discographical details, and succinct appreciations of each album by Bob Fisher. In an engaging essay, critic Brian Priestley (who interviewed Mose at one of his many Pizza Express appearances) writes: “One of the aspects of Mose’s career was his ability to revisit his songs in different formats over his albums and there are several appearances of the same songs, in live settings, with horns or his most favoured line up of simply his voice and piano with bass and drums.”

Baptised Allisonians will probably have (and treasure) several, if not all, of these sessions; the uninitiated or agnostic should certainly give them a hearing. One double CD a day for a week should work wonders. Rather than attempting a lengthy description and analysis of these milestones in the Allison odyssey, I offer a few comments on some of the plums in this excellent confection.

I Don’t Worry About A Thing, one of Allison’s early albums for Atlantic, has his original versions of the trenchant and funny Your Mind Is On Vacation, and I Don’t Worry About A Thing. One of his most significant recordings, it pointed the way to his becoming an increasingly eccentric, ironic and prolific songwriter as well as an instantly identifiable pianist.

Swingin’ Machine features a trio with two additional horn players, Jimmy Knepper and Jimmy Reider, and includes satisfying renditions of Ellington’s I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues and an unusual pop song of the late 1930s, So Rare.

The Word From Mose is regarded by many critics (including Richard Cook and Brian Morton) as his greatest achievement, with three of its titles – Don’t Forget To Smile, I’m Not Talking and Days Like This – as being among “the greatest songs ever written”. Praise indeed.

Wild Man On The Loose contains nine songs (all Mose compositions), and was one of his most popular LPs. Record Mirror reviewer Norman Jopling welcomed “the still hip Mr. Allison and a collection of songs which don’t include Parchman Farm and/or Baby Please Don’t Go. Really good piano work, jazz-blues tinged and vocals which you either take or leave”. My advice? Take them – try the exhilarating title track.

Mose Alive!, a recording made at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California, includes Seventh Son – already a popular hit, as well as the mock-serious (and ingenious) Smashed. Also and much to the audience’s obvious delight, there is a surprisingly uptempo reworking of Parchman Farm.

I’ve Been Doin’ Some Thinkin’ opens with an Allison original, Just Like Livin’ – philosophical reflections on the human condition – and a slow-tempo You Are My Sunshine. The best song has to be the ingenious Your Molecular Structure, but Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy must rank as one of his most biting critiques of hypocrisy. On this album also, Allison’s piano playing is notably more aggressive.

…Hello There, Universe features Mose very much at home with an all-star jazz combo, including Pepper Adams, Joe Henderson and Jimmy Nottingham. A fast-paced Somebody Gotta Move shows off the baritone sax of either Adams or Seldon Powell, and the sections meld and swing from the outset. The haunting Monsters Of The Id has Mose soberly discoursing on recent political protests (and violence) in America. An alternately gloomy and sprightly Blues In The Night is a cover of Big Joe Turner’s classic rendition.

Western Man has less to recommend, with Mose (for the first time) on electric piano, but with hardly memorable songs – apart from Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.

Mose In Your Ear, another live recording, has Allison at his most declamatory on Look What You Made Me Do and a fast-talking The Seventh Son. A long rendition of Powerhouse (8.37) demonstrates Mose’s “modernism” in full (cod Cecil Taylor?) pianistic flight.

Your Mind Is On Vacation (his final Atlantic recording) features guests David Sanborn, Al Cohn, Joe Farrell and Al Porcino performing 10 originals, including remakes of What Do You Do After You Ruin Your Life, Swingin’ Machine, and Your Molecular Structure. The title track (minus the horns) has the surreal introduction “Your molecular structure is really something swell, a high-frequency modulated Jezebel”.

The final two albums – Middle Class White Boy and Lessons In Living – both made for Elektra Musician – have much to recommend them. The first features Allison leading a sextet with Joe Farrell and Phil Upchurch. In evident good humour, Mose (again on electric piano) discusses How Does It Feel (To Be Good Looking?), with “sympathetic” backing from Upchurch. In a revealing comment on his repeated use of the “Kiddin’ On The Square” refrain on the song with that title, Allison related: “I tell everybody the key to my writing is ‘Kiddin’ On the Square’. I even wrote a song about it. You’re joking on the surface, but you’re saying something serious underneath it. In the area where I spent my childhood [Tippo, Mississippi], nobody said anything straight out – it was all aphorisms, irony, hyperbole or understatement. If you don’t understand that you don’t understand ‘Kiddin’ On The Square’.”

Lessons In Living, recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, has a super-charged Mose at the top of his game – ably supported and encouraged by Lou Donaldson, Eric Gale, Jack Bruce and Billy Cobham (and a wildly enthusiastic audience). You Are My Sunshine received perhaps its definitive performance – with a plangent solo by Donaldson.

The journal Musician announced that “Mose Allison is a unique figure in jazz, always on the very edge of wide public acceptance, playing and developing the almost forgotten art of song and lyric”. This collection, taken in measured doses, illustrates and affirms that statement.

CD1: [I Don’t Worry About A Thing] (1) I Don’t Worry About A Thing; It Didn’t Turn Out That Way; Your Mind Is On Vacation; Let Me See; Everything I Have Is Yours; Stand By; Idyll; The Well; Meet Me At No Special Place; The Song Is Ended; [Swingin’ Machine] (2) Swingin’ Machine; Do It; Stop This World; Promenade; If You’re Goin To The City; Santha; I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues; So Rare (66.40)
CD2: [The Word From Mose] (3) Foolkiller; One Of These Days; Look Here; Days Like This; Your Red Wagon; I’m The Wild Man; Rollin’ Stone; New Parchman; Don’t Forget To Smile; I’m Not Talking; Lost Mind; [Wild Man On The Loose] (4) Wild Man On The Loose; No Trouble Livin’; Night Watch; What’s With You; Power House; You Can Count On Me To Do My Part; Never More; That’s The Stuff You Gotta Watch; War Horse (63.23)
CD3: [Mose Alive!] (5) Smashed; Seventh Son; Fool’s Paradise; I Love The Life I Live; Since I Fell For You; Love For Sale; Baby Please Don’t Go; That’s Alright; Parchman Farm; Tell Me Somethin’; The Chaser; [I’ve Been Doin’ Some Thinkin’] (6) Jus Like Livin’; City Home; If You’re Goin’ To The City; Now You See It; You Are My Sunshine; Your Molecular Structure; Look What You Made Me Do; If You Really Loved Me; Everybody Cryin’ Mercy; Feel So Good; Let It Come Down; Back On The Corner (67.50)
CD4: […Hello There, Universe] (7) Somebody Gotta Move; Monsters Of The Id; I Don’t Want Much; Hello There, Universe; No Exit; Wild Man On The Loose; Blues In The Night; I’m Smashed; Hymn To Everything; On The Run; [Western Man] (8) If You Only Knew; How Much Truth; Benediction; Night Club; Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me; Mountains; Ask Me Nice; Tell Me Something; If You’ve Got The Money (I’ve Got The Time); Meadows (73.59)
CD5: [Mose In Your Ear] (9) Look What You Made Me Do; Fool’s Paradise; I Don’t Worry About A Thing; Powerhouse; Hey Good Lookin’; I Ain’t Got Nothin But The Blues; You Can Count On Me To Do My Part; You Are My Sunshine; Don’t Forget To Smile; The Seventh Son; [Your Mind Is On Vacation] (10) Your Mind Is On Vacation; Foolin’ Myself; No Matter; One Of These Days; I Feel So Good; Fires Of Spring; If You Only Knew; I Can’t See For Lookin’; What Do You Do After Your Ruin Your Life; Swingin’ Machine; Perfect Moment; Your Molecular Structure (79.16)
CD6: [Middle Class White Boy] (11) How Does It Feel? (To Be So Good Looking); Rollin’ Stone; I Don’t Want Much; Middle Class White Boy; When My Dreamboat Comes Home; I’m Nobody Today; I’m Just A Lucky So-And-So; Back Down South; The Tennessee Waltz; Hello There, Universe; Kiddin’ On The Square; [Lessons In Living] (12) Lost Mind; Wild Man On The Loose; Your Mind Is On Vacation; You Are My Sunshine; Seventh Son; Everybody Is Cryin’ Mercy; Middle Class White Boy; I Don’t Worry About A Thing; Night Club (77.34)
CD1: Mose Allison (p, v) on all tracks with: (1) Addison Farmer (b); Osie Johnson (d). NYC. 15 March 1962. (2) Jimmy Knepper (tb); Jim Reider (ts); Addison Farmer (b); Frankie Dunlop (d). NYC, 8 November 1962.
CD2: (3) Ben Tucker (b); Ron Lundberg (d). NYC, 10 March 1964. (4) Earl May (b); Paul Motian (d). NYC, 26 & 28 January 1965.
CD3: (5) Stanley Gilbert (b); Mel Lee (d). The Lighthouse, Hermosa Beach, CA, 22-31 October 1965. (6) Red Mitchell (b); Bill Goodwin (d). Los Angeles, CA, 9 June 1968.
CD4: (7) Jimmy Nottingham, Richard Williams (t); Jerome Richardson (f, as); Joe Henderson (ts); Pepper Adams, Seldon Powell (bar); Bob Cranshaw (b); Joe Cocuzzo (d). NYC, 16, 21, 22, 29 October 1969. (8) Chuck Rainey (elb); Billy Cobham (d). NYC, 2, 3, 11 February & 3, 4 March 1971.
CD5: (9) Clyde Flowers (b); Eddie Charlton (d). In Your Ear, Palo Alto, CA, no date. (10) Collective personnel: Jack Hannah (b); Jerry Granelli (d); Al Porcino (t); David Sanborn (as); Joe Farrell (ts); Al Cohn (ts). NYC, 5, 7, 8 & 9 April 1976.
CD6: (11) Joe Farrell (ts, f); Phil Upchurch (g); Putter Smith (b); John Dentz (d). Hollywood, CA, 2 & 3 February, 1982. (12) Lou Donaldson (as); Eric Gale (g); Jack Bruce (b); Billy Cobham (d). Montreux Jazz Festival, 21 July 1982.
Strawberry Records QCRJAMBOX003