At 82, Allison on cruise control

Mose Allison is touring to support his latest album “The Way of the World.’’ Mose Allison is touring to support his latest album “The Way of the World.’’ (Eric Grigorian/File 2009)
By Steve Greenlee
Globe Staff / June 7, 2010

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Here’s the thing you’re not supposed to say about singer and pianist Mose Allison: A lot of his songs sound the same.

That point was underscored by the pace of his concert Saturday night at Scullers. He packed 22 songs into the 75-minute second set, and at least half of the tunes started in the same manner: two I chords and two IV chords per bar, for four bars, before the singing starts.

Allison is not a flashy singer. He’s not even a particularly good singer. But his introverted, laid-back, sort-of-but-not-really-in-tune, talk-sing style is charming, and it has buoyed his career into a sixth decade. Even so, if you jam 22 songs into your set and you don’t change it up here and there, an intentionally flat voice can wear thin. “Fool’s Paradise,’’ “Everybody’s Crying Mercy,’’ and “Gettin’ There’’ were so similar in structure and execution that the trio could have been playing the same chart for each song.

The trio swung fine, but it was evident they don’t play together often. Allison, 82, has always kept it simple on the keys; he doesn’t take long solos or ruminate far from the melody. Bassist Paul Del Nero and drummer Bob Gullotti are top-notch Boston jazzmen, but they play with Allison only when he comes through town, so they were relegated to purely supporting roles. On the other hand, when songs run three minutes apiece, there’s no room for solos.

Allison is on the road supporting “The Way of the World,’’ his first studio album in 13 years. The bluesman had all but retired when producer Joe Henry finally coaxed him into the studio to lay down some new tracks. One of them, “My Brain,’’ is a gem that recalls one of his best-known tunes, “Your Mind Is on Vacation.’’ He played both of the songs Saturday night, and they were fun highlights whose wry lyrics and dry delivery illustrated why we’ve always loved Allison.

But much of the evening raised the uncomfortable question of whether Allison’s time has come and gone. The audience forgave him for forgetting the lyrics to Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me’’ (“Anybody know that first verse?’’ he joked after three aborted attempts). Harder to forgive is starting every tune with the same two repeated chords.

Steve Greenlee can be reached at

MOSE ALLISON At: Scullers Jazz Club, second set, Saturday night