Bernard Allison  Highs & Lows

Highs & Lows is Bernard Allison’s declaration of euphoria at getting back to work. His voice and guitar are standouts, his joy palpable. His longtime collaborator, the legendary Jim Gaines, produced the album, and Allison wrote or co-wrote eight of the songs.

The album lifts off with “So Excited,” a rhythmic pick-me-up like a shot of adrenaline after the constraints of the pandemic. As Allison says, he wrote this song to express his “excitement of being able to be back on the road again. I think everyone can relate to that.” His Johnny Winter influence is evident here through his robust vocals and smokin’ guitar. In the vivacious title track, Allison hooks us with addictive guitar as his lyrics portray a musician somewhat jaded by life, but never by the music. “Strain on My Heart” is a silky smooth testament to the agony of unrequited love, enhanced by Jose James’s stellar sax.

Colin James teams up with Allison for “My Way or the Highway,“ the two blues virtuosos treating us to a rousing interplay of vocal and guitar parts atop an irresistible, swinging groove. Then delving deep in the blues in “Side Step,” Allison’s expressive voice and wicked, stinging slide say it all. “Hustler,” featuring the irrepressible Bobby Rush on vocals and harmonica, dares you to stay seated as he and Allison funk it up big time, accompanied by bouncing bass and saucy sax.

Next the son pays tribute to his father, esteemed bluesman Luther Allison, who wrote the following two songs. “Now You Got It” delivers another punch of funk amplified with raunchy slide. Then the mood turns introspective in “I Gave It All,” reflected in Allison’s lustrous guitar. He serves up one more dollop of sassy funk with “My Kinda Girl.”

“Satisfy Her Needs” snares us with a captivating groove, radiant with luminous guitar. And to close, Allison sends us off with “Last Night,” a song as unpredictable as the woman he sings about.

Highs & Lows showcases Bernard Allison at his best. There’s a thread of buoyant optimism woven throughout this CD that makes it perfect for our time. (Sandra B. Tooze)