As I sit down today to write a review of Drew Allen’s debut album ‘Sydney Afternoon’ I feel something of a sense of frustration. I have had the album on constant play on my iPod for a few days now and it has been a constant companion in my car as well. I went up to Yeovil last night, with my son, to see Frank Turners gig and Drew’s album was played both there and back. I asked my son what he thought and the thoughts that have been forming in my head for a few days were crystallised. I had the framework of my review firmly in my mind and I was ready to write. I then made an error. I went to Drew’s website to check a few facts and found that someone had similar thoughts to me and that they were already on Drew’s website. I was gutted as I thought my perspective was going to be a fresh, innovative and new one.
I was going to start out by saying that I didn’t know Drew Allen but that I could tell by listening to his disc that he had obviously had an impeccable musical education, doubtless steeped in early exposure to the greats of my era, Bob Dylan, Neil young and so on. I was going to say that Drew was like a cross between a young Bob Dylan and Jake Bugg (who I saw live last month). The Jake Bugg element was provided by my son who when asked his view replied “He sounds a bit like Jake Bugg without the arrogant tosser element”. I couldn’t believe it when I went onto Drew’s website and saw that James Blunt had described him as “a sort of cross between Neil young and Jake Bugg”. How dare he! Reading Drew’s Biography I see that he “First picked up a guitar at the age eight and devoured the tabs from Bob Dylan chord books”. What! Two sentences and my clever, insightful and unique perspective has already been said by someone else and by James Blunt, who Drew will be supporting at the Bournemouth International centre in November, at that.What therefore am I to do? I know, I will give up trying to be clever and just talk about the album. You know how some albums take a bit of time to creep up on you, to sink into your consciousness before you ‘get them’, well this isn’t one of them. The opening track ‘Whistling Tunes” is a cracker, the Dylanesque strumming pattern on the guitar combined with the little arpeggio’s give the song a really catchy feel and by the time the harmonica kicks in at the end you already know that Drew is heavily influenced by Bob Dylan. By the end of Moonstone Romance, the second track you know that Drew Allen isn’t a song writer. No, he is a story teller, a poet who, like Dylan, sings his work.
When you get to the middle of the third track ‘3rd Time Prosperous’ you get hit by a sledgehammer of imagery as Drew paints a picture with his words:
Late one night standing in the road
Listening to the beauty bouncing through her lips
Trying to figure her out while staring at
the portrait of her black dress clinging to her hips
With that imagery I am transported to ‘Blonde on Blonde’ era Dylan, the sort of pictures Dylan produced with ‘Visions of Johanna’ and ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’. So there we are 2 minutes into the third track and I am already totally hooked. ‘Simply Riding the Storm’ takes me back to ‘Blood on the tracks’. ‘Three Nights Between’ would fit beautifully on John Wesley Harding, it has a feel of ‘The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas priest’ about it. The title track Sydney Morning has the feel of a Woody Guthrie influenced travelling tune. Drew is blessed with a unique voice, he has the slightly husky gravelly sound and the timing and phrasing of a young Dylan combined with the slightly higher pitched sound of Neil Young.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is some kind of attempt to imitate the greats though. That is far from the case, I highlight similarities to give you a flavour and lets be honest here, if you are going to be compared with anyone Bod Dylan and Neil young isn’t a bad starting point. Allen is one of a kind, the story telling ability the imagery and the passion put over in this album surpasses anything I have heard from his contemporaries. You get the story telling prowess of Passenger (Mike Rosenberg), the passion of Ed Sheeran and the distinctive folk-blues vocal of Jake Bugg, mixed up with the rhythm and phrasing of a young Dylan all rolled into one package with a touch of Neil young adding the topping to the mix. Seriously, that’s how good this album is.
The whole package is supported by beautifully sympathetic guitar and harmonica, almost exclusively provided by Allen himself. Where additional instruments are added it is done sympathetically. The album is very well mixed too, at no stage do the instruments overwhelm the vocal and for this kind of album that was absolutely the right approach. Drew’s website suggests that his vocals, guitar and harmonica sound as if they are from another era, an impression that is added to by the fact that the album is exactly 40 minutes long, the length of a good old vinyl LP for those not old enough to remember. That may be the case but this is a truly superb album, songwriting that is reminiscent of Dylan at his best, engaging, rewarding and timeless.
The album can be bought from iTunes or Amazon and I would highly recommend that you buy it. In years to come you will be able to look smugly at your friends and say “Drew Allen” well of course I was into him from when he released his first album. Drew is gaining a reputation as a superb and engaging live performer. Unfortunately circumstances over the summer have combined to deny me the opportunity to see him live, a situation I intend to put right when he plays locally in early October.
Watch this space for a review, until then both you an I will just have to enjoy ‘Sydney Afternoon’.
Check out ‘The Deal’ from the album.
I have shamelessly borrowed the images in this article from Drews Allens website. If you are the copyright owner and want them removed the please let me know.
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