Luther Allison,
(Ruf, 2007)

Luther Allison's "new" CD is designed to look like a vinyl album, which is appropriate because it's a reissue of a demo Allison made and had pressed into a LP to sell at his shows. Exactly when he cut Underground is questionable. The liner notes claim that it's from 1958, but almost immediately after the release of the record, questions about the time surfaced. It turns out that the album is probably from the early to mid-1960s, which still makes it very early Allison, perhaps his first solo recordings.

Allison is one of those Chicago bluesmen who never quite got his due, who never reached the first pantheon, probably because he wasn't one of the Chess Records artists, making his major label albums instead for Motown, where he was the only blues artist on the label. When his career faded in the States, he went to Paris, where me made a dozen or so albums and became a major European star.

On Underground we get his apprentice work. Even in his late teens or early 20s -- since the recording date isn't known, it's impossible to say exactly how old he was when he cut this set of tunes -- Allison shows his promise. The CD opens with an instrumental, Freddy King's tune, "Hideaway" that shows Allison's blistering guitar attack. Then he proceeds to make his way through seven more tunes, most of them standards -- "Don't Start Me Talking," "Driving Wheel" and "Rock Me, Baby" among them.

His playing and singing are assured and confident, as is the playing of his band, which includes the record's producer, Bobby Rush, on rhythm guitar. The problem, though, is there is less than 30 minutes of music and it sounds like the microphones were set up in one room, while the musicians played in another, down at the end of the hall.

Let's give Underground credit for the music, but none for the recording.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

11 October 2008

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