promising sophomore effort

Blue Streak (Alligator)
Luther Allison

By Michael Campbell

On his latest Alligator release, Luther Allison continues his evolution as an identifiable blues stylist. Building on the direction set in last year's Alligator debut, Soul Fixin' Man, Allison combines guitar styling elements from Freddie King and Buddy Guy without being a copycat. He contributes more than convincing guitar and vocals; he owns or shares songwriting credits (with guitarist James Solberg) on all but one tune.

As befits one who is developing a traditional music, some of Allison's subject matter reflects the stresses of urban America in the 1990s, with mixed results. The snarling guitar riffs of "All the King's Horses" speak to the challenges of trying to stay on the right side of the law. "Big City's" tense call and response between Ernest Williamson's Hammond organ and Allison's slide guitar paint a stark description of the city's smoky canyon: "I live in a big city/ And they tell me that we are free." "Move From The 'Hood" is a similar, but less successful, social commentary.

A leaner, cleaner approach to guitar tone and subject matter benefits "What's Goin' On In My Home?' with help from the Memphis Horns. The most effective cut, "Cherry Red Wine," focuses Allison's talents in a minor-key lament brimming with vocal and instrumental intensity.

Allison struts with his R&B roots an the album's closer, "Midnight Creeper," while "You Think With your Heart" evokes the soulful confession of Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman." Although Blue Streak has its share of generic — and thus forgettable — moments, Luther Allison's progress provides some reward and much promise for connoisseurs of the blues.