Saturday, January 31, 2009

heartworn highways

Not too long ago, my friend and singer/songwriter extroardinaire Allen Thompson sent me two new songs he just recorded, one original called "Sick Of Me," and a cover of the Grateful Dead's classic song "Mission In The Rain." With two full length albums already under his belt, and a third one on the way, if these songs are any indication of how his new album will turn out, we are all in for a treat.

Growing up in the town of Roanoke, VA, Allen has spent most of his life living and breathing country music. He once told me a story about driving around with his daddy at age five while Guitar Town, Steve Earle's legendary debut album, was blaring through the tape deck. Probably not long after the opening title track ended, Allen pointed to the stereo and declared "that's what I'm gonna do." He's spent the rest of his life trying to make this dream come true, and with these two songs as examples, I think he's well on his way.

"Sick Of Me" is as sad a country song as they come. As beautiful as it is brief, this three minute track flows through your ears as soothing as the breeze might flow through your hair while driving down an open, nameless highway somewhere in the heartland, with this song blaring through the speakers. Allen’s songwriting really lends itself to the open road, as any great country music should. While most Myspace music profiles boast about the intricacy of the artist’s work in an attempt to make them as unique as possible, the “sounds like” section on Allen’s profile simply states: “going out for a pack of cigarettes and never coming back.” There is a great sense of desperation, yearning, and heartbreak present in this song, the kind that might help a listener realize that their life and circumstances have become pure shit and they’ve been in the depths of despair longer than they could remember. It feels normal by this point. This would be an appropriate first song to put on the stereo when you finally decide to leave, with no hopes and no idea where it is you’re going.

Taking cues from Steve Earle, Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt, this is pure whiskey-drenched Americana done the way it should be, with an ethical sense of dedication and appreciation to its forefathers that is nearly unparalleled.

I’ve never been the biggest Grateful Dead fan, but realize now I may have been wrong all along after hearing his cover of “Mission In The Rain.” Allen makes it sound like he could have written it, particularly when he belts out the line “all the things I planned to do, I only did halfway.” This classic song permeates the kind of dissatisfaction and discontent that an artist often finds his or herself consumed by when they realize that reality falls fall short of their dreams. The lines come from his heart even though he didn’t write them, as the best covers always sound.

Expect another update soon when I work my way through his newest full length which I just received in the mail today! I am not totally done with it yet, but I can already say that each song on here is the best thing he’s ever written, and it just sounds fucking amazing.

I’ll be back soon with more on Allen, an update on my friends in Red Collar, and thoughts on the best music for the wintertime blues!!

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