As the story goes, Mose Allison, now in his 80s, figured he'd finished his last studio recording career with his final Blue Note discs late in the last century. Enter Michigan's own Joe Henry, one of many admirers of the songwriter who serves as the textbook case of irritable blues syndrome, the guy who wrote "Young Man's Blues" (perhaps best known via the Who's cover on Live at Leeds), "Your Mind is on Vacation," "Everybody's Crying Mercy," and so many other great musical complaints. Henry wore Allison down and got him back in a studio for a couple days of sessions that have yielded this deft half-hour of music. Thanks, Mose. Thanks, Joe. Because this is a splendid romp, a real addition to Allison's strong catalog. It's not the first record to bring in guitars and sax, moving the singer-pianist away from the trio format in which he's recorded most of his career. Still, the laid-back, sorta rootsy vibe of the cast Henry rounded up — his regular drummer Jay Bellerose is key here — sounds entirely refreshing.
Meanwhile, Allison contributes just half of the tunes on the disc. His originals are flanked by the kind of blues and Tin Pan Alley songcraftsmen who initially helped inform his sound (Roosevelt Sykes, Buddy Johnson and the team of Michael Edward and Bud Green) and the latter generation who owe him a thing or two (his daughter Amy offers the lovely "Everybody Thinks You're An Angel," and Loudon Wainwright III's "I'm Alright" almost could have been a Mose composition). On the title track, the darkness that Henry writes of so well meets Allison's fatalist streak in a co-written piece.
Writing on his own, Allison more often shows his off-handed manner of coping with life's absurdities and cruelties. "I know you didn't mean it when you stole my coat ... slit my throat ... blew us up," Allison sings over the course of one tune, seemingly lumping WMD-wielders with more run-of-the-mill fuck-ups. "My Brain" is an appreciation of his own noggin: "a cool little cluster ... keeps on workin' as long as you keep that coffee perkin'." And "A Modest Proposal" is a swift theme song for everyone embarrassed by sanctimonious posturing (and worse): "Let's give God a vacation ... and start making sense today."
"Crush" is a jaunty instrumental ditty. And the sign-off, Buddy Johnson's "This New Situation," is a perky duet featuring Allison's aforementioned daughter, Amy. If the now eightysomething Allison never does the studio thing again, The Way of the World isn't a bad place to end it. That's not to say that he had anything to prove in going into the studio in the first place. Or that listeners to this disc won't be eager for another.
W. Kim Heron is the editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.