Aaron Allen | A Place Called Hell

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Folk: Folk-Rock Blues: Folk-Blues Moods: Solo Male Artist
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A Place Called Hell

by Aaron Allen

Aaron Allen is not afraid of demons - yours or his - and his third record makes the point all too clearly in the title - A Place Called Hell. He doesn't waste time with self-indulgent long songs. Instead, his album - with the musical styles of blues, country, rockabilly, rock, folk and pop - are heartwrenching and true, perfect for listening to on a warm sunny day.
Genre: Folk: Folk-Rock
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
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1. No One Knows
3:29 FREE
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2. A Place Called Hell
3:08 FREE
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3. Anybody
2:43 FREE
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4. Backbone
2:37 FREE
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5. New Blues
2:31 FREE
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6. Nashville
2:39 FREE
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7. Moving On
1:48 FREE
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8. Oh My Lord
3:13 FREE
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9. Run
3:18 FREE
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10. A Song For Her
3:50 FREE
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11. Black Eye
3:18 FREE
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12. I Woke Up Today
1:35 FREE
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13. Woman So Fine
2:04 FREE
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14. A Light's Always On
4:47 FREE
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15. You And Me
2:35 FREE
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
A review by David Yazbeck from North by East West:
http://www.nxew.ca/labels/Aaron%20Allen.html

I saw Aaron Allen live for the first time almost exactly a year ago. It was at a fantastic Ottawa venue, the Elmdale House Tavern. I was impressed. A young artist with years of experience, all poured into some amazing music. I took home two CDs that night - Allen's first self-titled CD and one by Aaron Allen and the Small City Saints. I wrote about the latter on this site a little while ago, when Aaron told me he was recording a new CD. Well that CD is here. And it's great.

Aaron Allen is not afraid of demons - yours or his - and this record makes the point all too clearly in the title: A Place Called Hell. Although he has lost the backing of the Small City Saints, this record still maintains cohesiveness, with support from family and friends alike. Allen's songs are heartwrenching and true - perfect for listening on warm summer days in southwestern Ontario, where he lives. This record is filled with economy - Allen doesn't waste time with self-indulgent, long songs. It's always a bit of a risk for a musician to cut a song too early - but Allen does a great job avoiding excess and leaving you wanting more. The CD showcases Allen's interests in a variety of musical styles - blues, country, rockabilly, rock, folk, pop.

The CD opens with "No One Knows", a love song which features some experimentation: backward playing loops work well here, with feedback guitar, and sweet strumming guitar. It's Allen's silky smooth voice that carries this song. Not a strong voice, it's subtle and fragile and tentative - much like the subject matter of these songs - and that's where the power lies. While this opener is a standard pop song, the magic is in the details - pure, simple, hearfelt. A great start.

"A Place Called Hell" features a driving banjo. The banjo is an interesting instrument - plucky hollow sound and fast picking often evokes joy and free-spiritedness. Used in another way it can evoke danger, fear, and trepidation - which is exactly what happens on this track. The title speaks for itself. It's amazing how Allen can shift gears - Hell ends with a harrowing guitar solo, and then gives way to the bright sunlight of "Anyone". The song starts off with mellow acoustic guitar strumming, but builds with shimmery electric and solo work, and lovely female vocal harmonies. The feedback is here again - a little menacing, but also hopeful. The song's main refrain - "does anybody care?" is less a sad refrain than an assertion. I've noted that Allen reminds me of Matt Pryor (Get Up Kids, New Amsterdams) before - and that's evident here - but I also hear Jim Bryson's pretty arrangements and simple voice tracks.

"Back Bone" finds Allen shifting gears again - this is a mid-70s rocker - a la Bad Company or Montrose - simple guitar rift and a driving beat. Nothing new here, but Allen shows his range with his ability to take on a genre of rock known for repetitive licks but grabbing it as his own with that fragile voice again. "New Blues" is another shift downward, finding Allen channeling country blues with a religious theme - almost a confession after the rocking Back Bone track. At just under 2 1/2 minutes, Allen knows his audience - no excess here.

There is no doubt Allen is influenced by luminaries such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan, and that is most evident on "Nashville". But Allen is no mimic - these influences are filtered through his own musical sensibilities which reach farther and wider in some ways. Close your eyes and ignore the track listing and you will think you're listening to Ryan Adams. Ryan Adams when he's good. And Allen is that good.

"Moving On" jumps back to fifties blues - a rowdy rockabillyish rocker - with crunchy amplified guitar. This is a song for the dance floor. "Oh My Lord" continues the blues influence - but this is a slow rock burner a la AC/DC. Foot stomping and raunchy but still a core of blues with howling slide guitar and moaning harmonica, this reminds of Love Hungry Man for the new century.

It is apparent that Allen is restless and not interested in one style of music. This could be a bit schizophrenic for some listeners, wondering about all the twists and turns. But it's obvious that Allen is not only comfortable performing in various styles, he relishes the change and hopes you do too. It works. The next shift down - to the second side of the record, is the incredibly pretty "Run". Allen channels Neil Young's voice and Steve Earle's spirit here, but it's not the centrepiece: soft melodic guitar picking anchors the sadness of the lyrics in this song: "I might try a little hard, if you ask me to. I might leave it all behind, if you ask me to. What are the chances I could leave and come back to you? It makes me happy, does it make you happy too?" These lines are barely whispered - Allen's voice superbly illustrates the desperation of a lover realizing there is nothing more to do, and blaming himself. Like "Drinkin'" from his last record, the singer here turns on to himself, hating who he is, and repeating "I'm Gonna Run...." until the last line kicks in: "....away from me". This sadness hits you in the gut. Hard. An amazing song.

That theme of love and loss continues on "A Song For Her". The song features an image of a mother 'lying there', which strongly suggests loss in death. But I can't quite figure out where repeated "Who do you...think....you are?" is directed. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be - the mystery of a relationship unknown to others. "Black Eye" is haunting in its melody - simple guitar picking, mellow echoed piano. A dream state really - the way to stand up to difficult circumstances, with whistling that carries you away 'til the song ends shortly. "I Woke Up Today" continues with the difficulty theme: "...I'm mad at the world, and I don't know why. I feel like this every day of my life. It's so damn hard to be yourself, in a world that's let you down." Then the record shifts to the defiant - a slow acoustic blues beat, and a new anthem:
"There ain't no way that I'm gonna live...in a world that won't let me forgive. It's gonna take all the strength that I have...but I'm gonna try. Baby I will forgive".

At 4' 50'', "The Light's Always On" is the longest track on the record - by far. And with good reason. Amidst the despair and difficulty this is truly the most hopeful tune here - and the accompanying female vocal makes for a pretty duo which floats on the strumming guitar and humming keys. It's no wonder this song isn't cut short - you can't help but feel good listening to the title refrain, the building guitar, the great harmonies. A standout track. Closer "You and Me" doesn't fit here - after all the grandeur of the last track, it's a bit of a downer....a frank concession to love gone away - a troubled love, not doubt: "The truth is that it kills me girl but I want you to be, the one thing I don't have that I need."

If there is anything I would complain about on this CD it's the production. So many fine independent musicians have great songs, but translating them in the studio is tough without the finances. That said, this is a great record that you will want to listen to - when you're up for a reality check and when you're down for some sweet comfort. Better still: see Aaron Allen live if you can. I know he gigs a lot around London. In Ottawa, you have a great chance to see him live at the Elmdale House Tavern on August 2nd. And if you happen to be in NYC on August 7th, you can see him at Pianos, part of a tour of the States which I hope will bring Aaron great success.

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