Keepin' the Blues Alive
Keepin' the Blues Alive presents the 32-year-old guitarist and singer with stripped-down, hard-driving support from Greg Rzab (bass), Ray "Killer" Allison (drums), Will Crosby (rhythm guitar) and the always sympathetic keyboards of producer Ron Levy.
A veteran of Koko Taylor's Blues Machine and Willie Dixon's All-Stars as well as his father's loving tutelage, Bernard steps forward here to lead this taut ensemble through a stirring program of original material and carefully chosen covers, showcasing his fluent guitar, convincing vocals, vigorous drive and consistent good taste to impressive effect.
Allison's guitar shines brightest on the obscure Freddy King instrumental, "In the Open," where emotional abandon is registered with admirable restraint over the relentlessly pumping rhythm section to produce an impeccably rendered performance. Bernard pays tribute to his father with an impassioned reading of Luther's hopeful composition, "A Change Must Come," and offers an entirely distinctive treatment of the Jackie Brenston chestnut, "Rocket 88."
"Home Goin' " is an equally unique adaptation of an old-style gospel anthem marred only somewhat by Levy's over-the-top Hammond organ interlude, while both Allison and composer Aron Burton are poorly served by the ill-conceived closing selection, "Garbage Man." Of the Bernard Allison originals, "Baby Chile" and "Young Boy's Blues" seem to date to an earlier period in the artist's development and lose considerable potency in the hands of a man over 30; repeated listening deprives them of even more power, leaving a very thin vein of interest indeed. Everyone plays well, however, and the leader takes plenty of well-spent solo space.
Allison's incoherent lyrics to "Tell Me Why" are redeemed by a pair of blazing guitar solos which, characteristically, generate great heat and light but never flame out of control. "Walkin" moves at a brisk pace with more inspired guitar from Allison, while "You Gave Me the Blues" and "When I'm Lonely" are well-made and -played pop blues numbers that are reminiscent of Little Milton, Tyrone Davis, Walter "Wolfman" Washington or Guitar Slim Jr.
Bernard Allison has weighed in as a welcome blues force to be reckoned with. As he points out himself, Bernard's no Muddy Waters or B.B. King, but he can play the hell out of the guitar at the same level of passion and virtuosity attained by his late lamented father, and that's definitely good news for the blues.
-- John Sinclair