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Various Artists: If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison (Fat Possum)

A review of the tribute album to the late singer/pianist

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If You're Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison
The cover of If You’re Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison

Mose Allison has long found favor among pop and rock artists. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers adapted his arrangement of “Parchman Farm” on their 1966 album featuring Eric Clapton, and the Who included his “Young Man Blues” on their 1970 Live at Leeds. Van Morrison cut an entire album of Allison compositions in 1996, while everyone from the Yardbirds to the Clash to Leon Russell has dipped into the late Mississippi-born singer/songwriter/pianist’s extensive song catalog. So it comes as no surprise that artists as diverse as Jackson Browne, Iggy Pop, Richard Thompson, and Taj Mahal are collected on this 15-track compilation, each giving Allison’s work their own touch.

Allison’s allegiance to blues conventions and his too-hip-for-the-room demeanor are often pervasive, or at the very least implied. Chrissie Hynde’s “Stop This World” is consistent with her recent covers album, suave and sweet; Bonnie Raitt’s 2017 live take on “Everybody’s Crying Mercy” (which she cut originally back in 1973) takes a deep dive into blues territory; Pop’s reading of the title track goes heavy on the MIDI electronics; Loudon Wainwright III’s solo acoustic “Ever Since the World Ended” puts the focus squarely on Allison’s words.

The most effective tracks are those that veer just far enough from Allison’s trademarks but still leave no doubt whose songs these are: Former Blasters co-leaders Dave and Phil Alvin place “Wild Man on the Loose” into an appropriate rockabilly-esque setting, while Robbie Fulks recasts “My Brain” as surrealistic bluegrass in a Béla Fleck mold. Wrapping the consistently impressive project are Amy Allison (Mose’s daughter) and Elvis Costello, who team on a dark, laconic “Monsters of the Id,” a tune originally tucked away on Allison’s 1970 Hello There, Universe. The update, taken from Amy’s 2009 Sheffield Streets album, features Mose on piano, his playing simple and direct, just enough to remind us that he was like no other.

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Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin on social media

Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.