At some point in the last few years, it has become acceptable for tattooed punk rockers to pick up an acoustic guitar and hit the road. The two biggest success stories, Frank Turner and Chuck Ragan, have led to many others following the same path and with the success of Ragan’s Revival Tour, a tour essentially built by musicians of this ilk, it seems unlikely to stop anytime soon. Therefore, it is with joy that we can add John Allen to the ever growing, with his press shots suggesting he will easily fit in. Thankfully, he does so on more than just an aesthetic level.
His debut album, ‘Sophomore’, opens with ‘New Year’, a track that bemoans the idiots that find their way out on that most overrated of days and also the collection of broken promises we all build up, with the hope that this will be our year. It is this kind of storytelling that Allen excels at and this album is full to the brim of it. ‘Home’ see’s Frank Turner himself make an appearance (with the two having toured together earlier this year) and talks of finding a place in the world.
This is a theme that recurs throughout the album and there is no denying that it leads to a melancholic tone, however this never makes listening a chore. It’s a melancholy that is easy to relate too, not one that grates. It comes from trying to find your way in the world and the problem’s that can bring, but also the joy that can come with it. Songs like ‘Lessons I have Learned’ talk about exactly what is says on the tin and speak of the experiences of growing up. Of course, great songs only work if they appeal to the ears, not just the heartstrings, and Allen also has an ear for a melody, that will have you humming tracks such as ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Romeos’ for a long time.
Where this music’s power really comes from, is its simplicity. Tracks like ‘Blood Brothers’, a song that works as a tribute to friends not seen enough, are as basic as they come. A simple melody and lyrics that I am sure 90% of the listening audience can identify with. Yet, in its simplicity it has a charm that is undeniable. It makes you like it and possibly even love it, in a way that songs ten times more complicated struggle to achieve. While in amongst the melancholy, the joy of songs like ‘Freedom’ becomes even more infectious, as Allen sings of someone hitting the road and finding in it the peace they crave.
If Frank Turner makes you puke and you wish Chuck Ragan would focus all his attention on Hot Water Music, then you should probably stay far far away from this album, because it ticks all the boxes those two have used to make their name, at least as solo artists. If however, you love music as a form of storytelling and one man and an acoustic guitar can catch your imagination, then this is the album for you. John Allen writes songs that speak to the heart and because of that they are almost impossible not to relate to, which alone makes him worthy of your time.