Randy McAllister – Power Without Power
11 songs – 50 minutes
A fifth-generation Texan and songwriter with a unique point of view, Randy McAllister is a triple threat on harmonica, drums and vocals, but leaves the skins to others but simply dazzles on this release, a highly percussive set of this hard-to-define collection of original acoustic blues and roots.
McAllister grew up in the country about 30 miles south of Abilene, where his dad split his time between working as a fireman and keeping the beat in a band called The Flames. He followed in his father’s footsteps by buying his first kit with his own money but fell in love with the harp while serving in the Air Force and stationed in Massachusetts in his early 20s.
It was there that he fell under the spell of the enigmatic “Earring” George Mayweather, who was born in Alabama but was schooled in Chicago by Little Walter before being enlisted by slide-guitar master J.B. Hutto for the first iteration of his band, The Hawks. McAllister relocated to Alaska in the late ‘80s, where he honed his skills in local bands, before moving back to the Lone Star State, where he worked as the front man for Mike Morgan & the Crawl, a young Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones and longtime Doyle Bramhall guitarist Robin Syler.
Randy’s recording career began on Britain’s JSP imprint in the late ‘90s. The 15th solo effort in his catalog, this one was recorded by Duane Trower at Weights and Measures Soundlab in Kansas City and features sparce backing from guitarists Brandon Hudspeth (Levee Town/Dustin Arbuckle) and Howard Mahan, who sits in on three cuts. Two-time Blues Blast Music Awards winner Heather Newman and Jack McAllister make guest appearances on backing vocals.
A simple slide guitar run opens “Surprise!!!” before Randy’s melismatic vocals address a lady who’s the subject of differing rumors about her actions in a hotel room. His strong, lilting runs on the reeds are layered beneath his words and provide a sweet counterpoint to his message: Whatever transpired is no shock because no one else knows her like he does. The mood brightens somewhat for “Face First,” an allegory about perseverance that finds the singer at the bottom of a hill with a mouth full of dirt but determined to get to the top.
The rootsy “(Somebody) Ease My Troublin’ Mind” yearns for reassurance from a woman that everything’s going to be all right and features melismatic vocals before the ballad, “Son,” promises that the singer will always be there to watch him and lend a hand as he evolves into the man he’ll become. The rapid-fire, deep-in-the-beat blues, “Envy’s Embrace,” serves up more advice not to be swayed by falsehoods that could keep him from his goals.
The focus changes with “Sweet Spot,” which heaps praise on a lady who knows the singer so well, before “C’mon Brothers and Sisters” takes listeners to church and urges “don’t let the heart be ruled by what the world shows you” because there’s “a whole lot of ugly truth” standing in your way.
Things quiet for the somber “Not Everybody Leaves (Her Words),” which states that the singer knows his lady’s going to split but begs her not to tell him when she goes, before a Latin beat drives “Donnie Downer.” Fear not…it’s not a political statement, just a complaint about McAllister needing to spill his guts after a rough day and the only person around to talk to is someone who interrupts to tell a story of his own. Two more numbers — “Clear My Head,” which celebrates quiet nights in a small town, and the ballad “Like Nothin’ Else,” about the need to make choices based on how they’ll soothe the soul – bring the disc to an upbeat close.
If you’re a fan of great songwriting, you’ll love this one. As good as Randy McAllister’s voice and harp playing are, his words are even better!