Mose Allison’s ‘The Way Of the World’


Videos by American Songwriter

The Way of the World


[Rating: 4 stars]

If an artist’s influence is best measured by the number of imitators he inspires, it’s a testament to the enduring uniqueness of Mose Allison that, after more than 50 years of widely acclaimed songwriting, no one has really even tried to copy him. That’s not to say that Mose hasn’t had an influence, as his rich wit, wry humor and pointed socially commentary have inspired everyone from The Who and The Clash to Van Morrison and Elvis Costello to record his songs. But Allison’s stature among songwriters has always greatly outstripped his record sales, as his combination of jazz piano chops, blues and bebop idioms, and post-beatnik turns of phrase (not to mention his “acquired taste” vocals) have proved a bit too idiosyncratic for less adventurous listeners. Giving us one more chance to catch up with him, The Way of the World is a master’s course in songwriting.

Once one of the most prolific songwriters working, averaging an album a year for the first three decades of his career, Allison has skillfully averted the recording studio since 1997’s Gimcracks and Gewgaws. Now 83 and nearing the 60th anniversary of his first live performance, he shows no signs of wear on his first release for indie label Anti-, a typically spirited and eclectic affair that allows him to take another victory lap through the stylistic turns that have defined his career.

There’s brokenhearted balladry (“Once in a While”), bounding instrumentals (“Crush”), and biting breakup songs (“I Know You Didn’t Mean It”). There’s a takedown of organized religion wrapped in a plea to let an overworked God take a vacation in “Modest Proposal.” And while he sounds like a man half his age, Allison doesn’t fight off old age as much as revel in it, rewriting the old spiritual “This Train” to sing the praises of his resilient if declining gray matter for “My Brain.” But, as usual, he’s most potent when he’s most poignant, and the title track earns instant canonization into his body of work. “I’ve heard every battle is the one to end all war/ Seen thousands fall in line and never know what for,” he croons over smolderingly dark minor chords. “And still our greatest fear is just that knock upon the door/ It’s just the way of the world.”

Producer Joe Henry deserves credit for coaxing Allison out of recording retirement and resisting the temptation to modernize him for modern ears. He also gets points for assembling a perfectly complementary (and much younger) backing band, one that provides an organic backdrop of slashing guitar riffs and clattering percussion, all the while allowing ample room for Mose to flex his improvisational chops. To that end, he is in fine form, playing nimble single-note runs and thundering gospel chords, proving that time has done little to dull his impeccable sense of restraint. More than anything, though, it just sounds like a great Mose Allison album, one that is as fun to listen to as it is to study, another album beyond imitation.


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