East Texas-born, South Dakota-based Randy McAllister is an acclaimed blues/roots artist, known principally for his soulful vocals and inventive songs both topically and structurally in a genre that often is far too predictable. McAllister didn’t arrive on the scene overnight. From Texas to Massachusetts to Alaska and then back to Texas, McAllister signed with JSP Records, releasing three highly acclaimed CDs before going on to issue recordings on Severn Records (with Mike Morgan) and on Reaction Records where we hear him now. He plays drums (only on one track here) and harmonica on three of them, with all originals. His band, especially the slide guitar work of Brand Hudspeth is quite strong. Other members include Howard Mahan (guitar on track 2), Paul Greenlease (bass), Adam Hagerman(drums) and Heather Newman (background vocals).
Glean these titles – “You’re Like Mashed Potatoes,” “Personal Pinata,” “Relax Watch the Crash” and it’s immediately clear that McAllister comes from an interesting viewpoint as he writes. Fortunately, he provided some insights on several of them. ‘You’re Like Mashed Potatoes’ was based on building around that line with the sentiment of how a kid might say how much he loves something. This is how many soul songs were written, from a Kid’s perspective. One of the lines that sticks with the listener is “Ain’t no need to make this complicated, some things are so good they can’t be overstated.”
“‘No Conductor” is a showcase for McAllister’s vocal, amplifying all its nuances. One typically thinks of train songs, or in this case a train analogy as a fast tempo song which is how he originally intended it. So, the ballad form serves as an interesting contrast to the out-of-control train with conductor. He has a few humorous phrases in “Catch Up Later,” one of Hudspeth’s best slide guitar spots on the album and an infectious melody, and keening harmonies form Newman. “I don’t need to keep my foot on the accelerator, go ahead now without me, I’ll catch up later.” “Personal Pinata” is a metaphorical way of expressing rejection and heartache while maintaining an upbeat attitude, paid off in this line – ‘Take a few whacks until I crack, spill my insides but I keep coming back.’”
McAllister gives us an intoxicating mix of blues and soul, flying in the face of conventions, doing it his way. When someone gets you in debate about too much sameness in blues music, have them listen to this. It has all the ingredients – great vocals, off-the-cuff songs, and the kind of raging slide guitar that appeals to both blues and rock fans. But more than anything, it’s McAllister’s songs that set him apart.
- Jim Hynes
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