Jon Allen’s new album Deep River has been adequately praised by Folk Radio as the “bucolic summer haze and muted orchestration of Nick Drake, the urban spit and sawdust noise of Ray Davies and the barely restrained blues licks and rasp of John Martyn or early Peter Green”. In his third album, the English singer and songwriter manages to capture the suburbs of South Devon – where he spent his childhood – in a snow globe of soulful vocals and melodic acoustic guitar.
The majority of the album is a comatose of folk lullabies – sending listeners on an aimless stroll around a sleepy suburb. Tracks generally open with a delicate acoustic guitar harmony, repeated throughout the song. Allen’s soulful guitar tinkling works to give each song it’s own distinct vibe that falls somewhere between the nostalgic reverie induced Deep River and the more uplifting sense of movement created in Wait For Me. Despite their initial allure, these harmonies are repeated like the start of a broken record throughout the entire song – making Allen’s musical journey through streets lined with the same white picket fence and neatly organized greenery seem rather arduous.
This is especially true of songs such as Lady of the Water and Hummingbird Blues – essentially a two-way conversation between Allen’s voice and his trusty acoustic guitar. While the lack of any other sound accentuates Allen’s marmalade voice the constant repetition induces a sense of drowsiness.
Allen attempts to remedy this side effect by peppering songs with other background instruments. In the albums first track Night and Day – which has already been B listed by English radio station Radio 2 a mid tempo drum beat, bass and string ensemble give the piece a captivating edge. However, like the hypnotic guitar harmony that opens the song these new sounds also become repetitive by their end.
The album is balanced out by more upbeat tracks that could trick any Cold Chisel fan into thinking that Jimmy Barnes and his gang are making a comeback. Songs like Fire in My Heart and Get What’s Mine bring out Allen’s fiery alter ego so that listeners never completely fall into a lethargic stupor. Joined by the piano, bass guitar and livelier drum patterns, these songs succeed in disturbing the somnolent stillness created by other tracks on the album, turning the listeners aimless suburban wander into a more purposeful strut.
In short, while at times slightly dreary, Allen’s new album should definitely be appreciated for it’s display of authentic musical talent. Allen’s voice makes this album definitely worth a listen for anyone with a soft spot for long scenic walks along the beach, Damien Rice and Dallas Green.