Ruf [Release date: 02.02.18]
Bernard Allison’s return to Ruf Records after 12 years finds him in a mellow, reflective mood.
He’s ditched the horns and keyboard to focus on the rhythmic quality of a song-driven album. As a result, he showcases his guitar tones and a vocal that does it best to make a husky emotive connection with some funky blues.
‘Let It Go’ suggests a new maturity for the younger Allison – though he’s actually 14 years older now, than when his dad Luther first moved to Paris!
And while Luther’s legacy continues through a closing brace of his songs, Bernard works hard to bring his own soulful connection to an album that digs deep for its grooves and overall direction.
He makes his mark through a mix of soulful grooves, lashings of funk and variety of guitar tones, although in spite of his stated songwriting goal, ‘Let It Go’ is not big material.
Four covers re-confirm his ability as an interpretive singer, while the somewhat predictable roll call of blues heroes on the stop-time shuffle ‘Blues Party’ does allow the band to stretch out impressively.
His best moments are when he evokes George Benson on the percolating funk of ‘Same Ole Feeling’, while he colours the title track with a triple solo contribution full of sustained and repeated notes that weave in and out of a punctuated groove.
Allison consistently focuses on making an emotional connection with a song, and he does so on the reworked Mel London rockabilly classic ‘Look Out Mabel’, on which his clean toned guitar cuts through a funky groove that could be a Grover Washington Jnr. backing track.
Had this been Bernard Allison’s first album you would applaud the deep grooves, the concise solos and his ability to emphasize a nuance with his croaked voice, but this is the work of a bluesman going back to the basics on stripped down arrangements that he let’s breathe.
The emphasis on rhythms means he has to rely too much on the funky arrangements to overcompensate for the lack keyboards and horns (albeit Jose Ned James does add some earthy sax to a finger clicking cover of Brook Benton’s ‘Kiddio’).
The relaxed opening of ‘Cruisin For Bluesin’ sets the template for a slow burning album glued together by the band’s sonic detail and Jim Gaines’ warm production.
Such is the laid back feel of the album that it come as something of a shock when Bernard cuts lose with a jagged-edged solo on ‘Night Train’. The tightly wrapped slice of funk doesn’t easily accomodate his angular solo.
He’s much more convincing on the understated blues of the Luther Allison penned ‘You’re Gonna Need Me’, on which Bernard lets his guitar do his talking for him.
The title track is the cornerstone of the album, as the hook of the song resolves a slight tension to draw us into both the song and the album as a whole. It’s also provides the moment when Bernard reconnects with the ebullient catalyst to be found on albums such as ‘Storms Of Life’ and ‘Higher Power’.
The CD finishes in acoustic mode with a heartfelt version of Luther’s Castle’, which only lacks the gently thumbed bass of the original to underpin one of Bernard’s most poignant performances. The gentle finish also cleverly leaves a void, which the discerning listener might want to fill by hitting the repeat button.
‘Let It Go’ is a snapshot of Bernard Allison now. He’s done some living, he’s matured and he’s confident enough to strip things down and dig deep for an emotional connection on a return to form of sorts. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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