Mississippi’s jazzy bluesman Mose Allison managed to flat out charm a Red Deer audience with his sly humour and subversive wit — despite barely uttering a word of stage banter.
Demurely clad in an oxford shirt, chinos and three-stripe running shoes, Allison appeared unassuming, even reticent, on the stage of the Elks Lodge on Friday night.
But did he ever have a lot to say through his music.
Despite all appearances, Allison wasn’t shy about speaking his mind in songs so sharp, humourous and irreverent that we citizens of the world were too busy laughing to realize we’d been poked.
His humanist message came through clearly in the laugh-out loud funny tune, Ever Since the World Ended.
“Just as well the world ended,” sang Allison, “wasn’t working out anyway . . .”
He went on to take swipes at the racial divide between blacks and whites, as well as Bible belt hypocrisy: “Remember how we all pretended, lying about the way we felt . . .” Allison wrapped the song up with “ever since the world ended, I’ve faced the future with a smile” — and the full-house crowd of 110 gave him a hearty burst of applause. The crowd later gave him two standing ovations at the end of the concert.
As one critic so aptly put it, no one can tell us the bad news better than Mose Allison.
Whatever sets him off, whether it’s environmental destruction, over-consumption, preoccupation with idle gossip, or war, Allison can get a political point across without ever sounding preachy or didactic.
The diminutive musician, who’s influenced famous rockers The Rolling Stones and The Who, is now entering his 80s, but the only evidence of his advanced age is his snow white hair and beard.
Close your eyes and Allison’s no-nonsense voice sounds like he’s in his 30s. His timing remains as sharp as a stand-up comedian, which is sort of how Allison has always viewed himself.
People have called him a cynic, but the musician has never taken much stock in that. His view seems to be that the world might be saved, if people would only recognize their own frailties and smarten up.
On Friday, he sang about big-city problems using clever turns of phrase in the mellow song City Home, as well as in the advice-filled If Your Going to the City, which ends with “there’s two things I hope: Don’t take money from a woman, and don’t start messing around with dope.”
Molecular Structure pokes fun at the need for science to explain indefinable things, such as romantic attraction. Who’s In, Who’s Out mocks our celebrity-obsession, while I Don’t Want Much (just fame and riches) lampoons another of society’s less noble preoccupations.
His tongue-in-cheek Tell Me Something I Don’t Know showcases Allison’s talent for taking a popular saying and riffing on it, as does the inspired I’m Getting There.
But my all-time favorite Allison song is Your Mind is on Vacation, because it starts with the memorable line “If silence is golden, you wouldn’t raise a dime.” Now who has ever described brainless chatter better?
Mose Allison, after six decades, is still going strong. Long may he continue as society’s humourous troubadour, holding the mirror up in the hope that someone will see a reflection.
Edmonton musicians Sandro Dominelli, on drums, and Mike Lent, on bass, provided great backup for Allison, once again proving they are more than quick study artists.
They are truly awe-inspiring, intuitive players.