1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die
Tom Moon refers to Mose Allison as a “Hipster Cynic” in his subhead for “Allison Wonderland.” Hipster is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, and a clear definition doesn’t exist. One thing I’ve noticed about the subculture is its emphasis on irony, and I think Moon and I would agree that Allison’s main instrument is his ironic sense of humor, and his piano second.
Allison is a master of the rhetorical approach. Nearly every aspect of his music revels in irony. The most obvious display is in the lyrics, no matter what Allison is singing about. Moon chooses to highlight the more cynical tracks on the album, such as “Ever Since The World Ended” and “Ever Since I Stole The Blues.” The former is a positive reflection on the end of days and the latter is a jab at the widespread belief that he was black, based on music alone. Allison’s vocals are so dry, they often add a humorous tint to otherwise morbid subject matters, like killing one’s wife (“Parchman Farm”).
When Allison isn’t reflecting on social ills, he’s still being just as sardonic. “Wild Man On The Loose” makes him out to be a tiger-blooded lunatic based on the lyrics, but his underhanded delivery makes it into a self-mocking affair.
Even his music plays along. Songs like “Lost Mind” are theoretically depressing affairs about love lost, but it’s tough to play along with the mood when Allison’s piano playing is as bouncy as it is. He punctuates his bridges with an odd form of vocal improvisation, which I call “Mosespeak,” little ditties comprised of barely audible mumblings.
Moon lists Allison under the “vocals” category in his book, probably to avoid the jazz-blues debate. I classify him as blues because, although his band’s style is jazz and there is humor in his lyrics, his humor is derived from wistful pessimism.
At 47 tracks, this collection takes quite a bit of time to get thorough. It would make for fine background music thanks to his music’s easy demeanor, but it would be a mistake to ignore the wry humor within his lyrics.
INTERESTING FACT: Allison recieved his degree from Louisiana State University. Once during a telephone interview, he told the reporter the fact, prompting the response that he must have been the first black man to graduate from that university.