Redemption Songs: Mose Allison Live @ Largo at the Coronet (1/17)
Mose Allison has always been a misfit. Not a misfit in the sense of a James Dean or even a Chet Baker (I mean, if Bruce Weber does a documentary on your meaningful junkie wrinkles, you've found some kind of "fit"), but a true unclassifiable. After all, the blues are rumored to be something the devil hands to a cheating drifter who don't give a fuck at some deserted crossroads, not something a decent family man with huge chips on his shoulders toils under for six decades in front of a boogie-woogie piano. But that was Mose when he blew everyone away in the 1950s and 1960s with those Prestige and Atlantic albums, and that was Mose last night at the Largo at the Coronet stage -- the unhippest hipster you've ever seen and one of the most original, understated songwriters to ever tackle the mysteries of the blues.
Word has it that the 77-year-old Little Richard, who, like Mose, broke out in the mid-1950s with his own idiosyncratic take on the old blues, is still parading around in spangly outfits and thick mascara. Mose is five years older -- he predates the Great Depression -- and has never had time for such shennaningans. He takes the stage wearing grampa pants hiked up well above his midsection and very comfortable-looking sneakers. Like his admirer Bob Dylan, who sounded 64 when he recorded his first album at 19, Mose always seemed an old man, even in his 30s. The hipper rock and roll kids, particular the British contingent around the Stones, the Yardbirds, the Who and the Kinks, idolized him not the way they idolized Elvis (as an older brother) but as a kind of lost white bluesman from a mysterious time and place. His albums, particularly Back Country Suite (1957) and Mose Allison Sings (1963) were studied along the works of real-deal blues patriarchs like Muddy Waters.
Sunday's show was one of four Mose played at Largo this past weekend, twice each night with little variation in repertoire. Like he's always done, he mixed his favorite old blues pieces from Big Joe Williams and Bukka White and other pioneers with his own, often comic compositions. That's the other thing: Mose is the self-carved link between the blues-folk tradition and the urbane wit of Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer or even Cole Porter. He stands there in music history between the pre-rock forms and the bitter, brilliant beleaguered white-man cynicism of Ray Davies and Randy Newman. It's a line that comes all the way down to Jarvis Cocker, whose "Common People" could very well be a Mose Allison diatribe.
Mose has an album ready to go with Anti-, the local label that specializes in tracking down underemployed icons of music history and pairing them with sympatico producers. The sets at Largo (backed only by a stoic stand-up bassist) might have showcased some of the new material, but it was hard to tell because Mose's style has remained so consistent over the years--tales of reprobates forever regretting their Saturday nights and hoping for a pipe-dream redemption can that is always being reflexively kicked by their own foot the moment they bend down to grab it. He's the anti-Springsteen: Mose's tramps were not born to run, but to wake up with a hangover and take to the piano to tell their woes with a wry smile.