In many cases, collections of musical odds and ends - a live rarity here, an alternate take there - can be uneven and inconsistent. And the people they're aimed at - mainly diehard fans and serious collectors - are willing to live with that. They have more than just a casual interest in the artist's work, and even the less-from-essential stuff excites and intrigues them. Assembled in 2002 - five years after Luther Allison's death - Pay It Forward is the sort of odds-and-ends collection that tends to appeal to diehard fans rather than casual listeners. This CD, which spans 1985-1996, contains an abundance of previously unreleased material and ranges from various live performances to an alternate version of the dark, brooding "Cherry Red Wine."
Luther's third album for Alligator finds the 50-something bluesman truly at the peak of his powers. His superb guitar playing has never been more focused, and his singing shows a fervent shouter in full command. But Allison's songwriting has made giant strides as well, and ten of the 14 tracks aboard feature him as a co-writer as well. The production by Jim Gaines delivers a modern-sounding album that stays firmly in the blues tradition while giving full vent to Luther's penchant for blending soul, rock and funk grooves into his musical stew.
The second of three Allison albums issued on Motown's Gordy subsidiary in the 1970s, Luther's Blues captures the guitarist's uncovered-wire sound in its full glory. The crescendo ending of "Let's Have a Little Talk," one of five Allison originals here, is more than another standard variation on crowd-pleasing clichés. It's an apocalyptic, blues-wailing roar, with Allison's pleading vocal at its core. Berry Gordy turns up in the composer credits for one tune, "Someday Pretty Baby," which, along with "Part Time Love," trawls the company's early raw-edged back catalog. Even the funk-flavored "K.T."–an attempted hit single?–fits the mood. The three bonus tracks on this exemplary remaster nearly double the original LP's length, with a raw version of Freddy King's "San-Ho-Zay" glowing alongside an alternate version of Allison's "Bloomington Closing" and a lengthy medley from the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues Festival.
The very thing that made Luther Allison noteworthy became an albatross around his neck. Years after his initial run of records in the '70s, he was known for the same thing he was at the time – he was the only blues artist on Gordy, or any Motown affiliated label. This was true and novel, but many focused on the novelty, not the truth, ignoring Allison's status as a terrific torchbearer of raw Chicago blues. Some of material illustrates some contemporary influence – dig that funky groove and organ on "Raggedy and Dirty," or the rock-oriented slow burn of Mel London's "Cut You A-Loose" – but as his original title track illustrates, he can also deliver a torturous, impassioned slow grind. Still, this isn't an album about originality, it's a record how tradition can remain alive in a contemporary setting. Apart from the slightly cleaner production and the extended running time, this could have been released 15 years earlier, since its heart is in classic Chicago blues, particularly Chess. He draws on Willie Dixon via Howlin' Wolf for the first two tracks, dipping into Elmore James and B.B. King's catalogs later on in the record.
Luther Allison seemed to be on a roll when he died in 1998. He was back home after many years in Europe, and was winning awards and making a good living. This, his debut album, was cut in 1969 when he was 30 years old. He sang as if barely able to keep a lid on his emotion, and the elegance and precision of his guitar playing belied the fact that he had only been playing the instrument for a few years. If this debut can be faulted it's only in that it relies too heavily on overfamiliar standards like "Little Red Rooster," "Five Long Years," "Dust My Broom," "Sky Is Crying," and "Every Night About This Time." The CD reissue has been expanded with alternate takes and bonus cuts.
A follow-up to his previous Soul Fixin' Man (which uses the same personnel and may be from the same sessions), bluesman guitarist/singer Luther Allison is in top form throughout this well-rounded set. Allison wrote (or co-wrote with guitarist James Solberg) all but one of the dozen songs, and these range from heated blues struts to blues ballads. Recommended to fans of lowdown, intense Chicago blues.
Soul Fixin' Man was blues guitarist/vocalist Luther Allison's first American recording in nearly 20 years. However, his domestic inactivity was not because Allison had stopped playing music. Far from it, since he was based in Paris and worked constantly on the European continent. A powerful player whose intensity on this set sometimes borders on rock (although remaining quite grounded in blues), Luther Allison (who contributed eight of the dozen songs) displays the large amount of musical growth he had experienced since the mid-'70s. Joined by his quintet, the Memphis Horns, and (on "Freedom") a choir, Allison is heard throughout in top form.