For spirituals, the blues and the art of the saxophone in a small group rolling at times like Sonny Rollins what more could you want?
Long time JD Allen followers will know after a few listens or pretty much immediately that Americana Vol 2 is far better than Queen City not that that record was at all shabby because among other reasons of the stop the traffic instrumental treatment on the new 'un of the Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker song of disappointed love 'You Don't Know Me' the title track synonymous with Ray Charles and which works so well.
As noted on marlbank a few weeks ago the JD Allen approach is to converse with the double bass of Gregg August most here and in lapidary lines with guitar boffin Charlie Hunter. And the approach is compelling.
Critics might cavil at the relatively limited palette of the format and that is a reasonable point. But the rebuttal is found in the sequencing and the way the album becomes bluesier the more you journey with it. Bookended by 'Up South' and 'Down South', overall the message music is however quietly stated devastatingly-political aimed through a humane lens the end result a transcendence above the impossibility of this often unjust world.
The best bits are often outrageously slow and laidback while 'Irene' (Mother)' coming before the end is different and so conversational. JD, August, Hunter and the great drummer Rudy Royston (often quite Rod Youngs-like especially on 'Up South') know how to carve out firm roles for themselves and send a message to you that you can immediately absorb.
'The Battle of Blair Mountain' which references a huge labour uprising in Logan County, West Virginia during the early 20th century ''coal wars'' is a scintillating highlight where the fabric of the structures is newly dug out by Hunter. Royston's deft drum rolls provide a serious moment at the beginning of 'A Mouthful of Forevers' underpinned by August's arco line and JD's most serious statement of the whole album.
Royston is the bridge to Bill Frisell's Americana explorations in the same idiom whether overt or not which this album is in solidarity with but stands apart from authorial Friselliana given Allen's own unique vision as a leader. Often moving and deep there is lots of joyful, virtuosic playing too and in this you would be hard pressed to find a better tenor saxophonist anywhere these days - old news but worth repeating - than Allen who refuses to spray the record with superfluous notes, only what are needed.
There isn't time to go into all the tracks. JD is Rollins-like frequently but without any direct Caribbean motific quoting or gracenotes in his sound more in terms of statesman-like composure. But also like Rollins when he keeps it simple there is a lot of resource even when everything seems stripped down. Certainly all in all JD's best album since his classic Bloom (2014).
New in the top albums of the year - cast your eyes over the full list