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Friday 15 December 2017

Gentle soft-rock easy listening breakthrough for Jon Allen

Allen
Allen
Allen

"That big jet plane is leaving..."

There's a school of thought that claims you can't have soft-rock music without mention of a "big jet plane".

Even before the Box Tops first sang, "Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane…", the thinking songwriter was obsessing with the aerial quota of Bacharach and David's Trains and Boats and Planes.

Some hit the jackpot. John Denver did when Peter Paul and Mary recorded his mid-60s composition Leaving On A Jet Plane. One-time self-styled space cowboy Steve Miller took his psyche-rock to another level with Jet Airliner. Set inside a plane, Joni Mitchell's This Flight Tonight explored the anguish and uncertainty of love.

wanderlust

From Winchester, 36-year old Jon Allen has served his time as a singer-songwriter. He knows his wanderlust. On his Wait For Me that bloody plane is "leaving to take me far away…". However, he'll be back again in autumn. Unlike Mitchell, Jon can't quite manage anything philosophical. But hearing the 11 songs on Deep River, you might suspect he spends a lot of time listening to the in-flight Adult Contemporary Soft Rock channel as he clocks up the air miles.

Things came together when Jon discovered Hammond player Rich Milner. Two earlier albums paved the way for Deep River which is set to establish him as an English alternative to J.J. Cale. Not quite in the way that Tommy Steele was advanced as England's answer to Elvis Presley. Allen has more to offer.

Allen's music evokes a time when England was awash with bands that wore dungarees and yearned to be living in Laurel Canyon.

The gentle thrum of Lady of the Water might be something Graham Nash attempted to interest David Crosby and Stephen Stills in. Producer Tristan Longworth did his homework. From the downhome acoustic picking on Hummingbird Blues to the funkier n Get What's Mine, he keeps the arrangements precise, everything in its place, serving Allen's voice.

As they used to say about Ian Matthews' band Plainsong (who coincidentally recorded an album about aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart) the playing throughout is "tasty".

Jools Holland likes Allen's gravelly back-porch John Fogerty vibe, heard to best effect on Get What's Mine, and had him guest on his TV show Later. You can expect a lot more people to pick up on Allen when they hear this collection.

If there's a but, it's that, despite the gentle hooks and pleasant grooves, Allen's songwriting fails to challenge. It sounds safe. Too safe. Tidy suburban English boho angst masquerading as maverick existential hobo doubt.

Rating: ***

Deep Water (Monologue)

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