Luther Allison
Alligator 4849
Clattering screams, moans and nonstop electric solos together like garbage-can lids, Luther Allison barely changes a thing on the follow-up to 1995's Handy-winning Blue Streak. The Chicago singer-guitarist's loud, exhilarating formula on three Alligator albums since returning from Europe in the early '90s establishes itself quickly on the explosive first notes of "Low Down and Dirty."

Like fellow Chicagoans Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and Son Seals, Allison is talented and inventive enough to lean on flashy guitar slinging without overdoing the showing off. He draws inspiration, as on the surprisingly up-to-date Blue Streak, from social outrage -- panning prejudice in "Will It Ever Change?" and greed in "Pain in the Streets." As an expression of outrage, the line "I see discrimination all around" isn't exactly "The Times They Are A-Changin' "; still, Allison does a decent job updating an old music form with new issues.

The most interesting songs on Reckless are the ones in which he breaks out from the traditional 12-bar cage. "You Can Run But You Can't Hide" is a nice give-and-take between Mike Vlahakis' funky electric piano (and, sometimes, Hammond B-3 organ) and Allison's high-pitched tones.

The changes of pace, though, give Reckless its sharp edge: "Just as I Am" is like a '60s soul song; "You're Gonna Make Me Cry" begins with gospel organ and testifying; and help from Allison's guitar-playing son, Bernard, makes the acoustic-and-harp "Playin' a Losing Game" as moody and tear-jerking as (almost) any Lightnin' Hopkins classic.

Unless you fit in some easy-to-market trend -- recently, white teen hotshot guitarists like Jonny Lang or Kenny Wayne Shepherd -- it's tough to become a big star touring the blues circuit these days. Even so, Allison, who has been around long enough to have old-school credibility and still has the energy to play like Jimi Hendrix, probably likes his chances. He may just slip into Guy's lucrative marketing shadow; anybody know Reebok's phone number?

-- Steve Knopper

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Boulder, CO, USA.