There are two things Justin Allen has going for him in my estimation: like me, he’s from Ohio but set out to make his fortune someplace else, and the other thing is that he’s a talented songwriter who seems to have found a niche at the intersection of rock and country. Of course, I don’t think he’s the only guy to ever try this combination.
But when the “someplace else” Justin chose to travel to is Nashville, it’s a natural that he would lean just a shade to the country side. Yet it’s not quite the modern country that’s giving the genre a bad name; instead there’s just enough other flavor to keep the listener’s interest. A good case in point is the lead video from Justin’s five-song EP release from last month, called Angelina.
I have to admit, the video itself is a little bit strange but then again a guy who’s worked as a pedicab driver yet can write a song lyric like “I don’t care if we go to hell/And Bon Scott greets us when we arrive” – he’s definitely not your average Joe. (That track, called Feeling Alright, is a rockabilly song with a definite influence from – and vocal style of – old John Cougar.) In fact, the best asset of “White Oak & Kerosene” is the variety of styles put into the compilation, which checks in at over 24 minutes for a five-song EP. Justin certainly doesn’t cheat on song length.
The country aspect comes through more on Angeline and also Come A Little Closer, but like I said earlier these aren’t exactly the modern country anthems that seem to be all about drinking beer, driving pickup trucks, and chasing women, in one order or another. Whether it’s the hint of western swing that Angelina has, the country-fried blues of the title track, or the more heartfelt Come A Little Closer, those who like country can enjoy this sampler.
But since I come from a rock n’ roll background I really got more into the other two songs: the aforementioned Feeling Alright and the lead track, Hard Luck Man. That song slowly builds up a head of steam but by the end you’ll want to crank it up.
Now if I had a quibble about this album, which is the debut for Justin and his band, it’s that he seems to oversing some of the songs. It sounds to me like he exaggerates the drawl a little bit for effect, so it comes out as if he’s trying to be a parody of a Southern rock singer. Perhaps in a live setting he lets it naturally flow a little bit more, which will improve the songs over time. As singers gain experience, they also learn to shape the songs to their singing style and I think Justin will, too.
And speaking of live shows, Justin and his very tight backup band, the Well Shots, have played a few dates already as support for the EP and it wouldn’t surprise me if they wandered this way. I’d be interested to hear what songs they cover to fill out the show; something tells me they wouldn’t be what one would expect. But don’t take my word for it, as they have three of the five songs up on their website so you can listen for yourself. If you like them, sign up for the mailing list and it may pay off in a tour stop – you never know.