Friday, March 7, 2014
By RICK JOHNSON
South Portland native Amy Allen started singing and playing guitar when she was 9 years old, and has been performing around New England ever since.
Amy Allen will be playing as part of the Alive at Five series in Portland’s Monument Square on July 18. Her latest EP proves she’s no Taylor Swift clone.
HOW IT RATES
AMY ALLEN – "OTHER SIDE OF SOMEWHERE"
PRODUCED BY: John Mark Painter and Leland Grant
Based on a four-star scale
She is a beautiful young woman playing country-influenced pop, so comparisons to Taylor Swift were inevitable. However, with the release of her third EP, "Other Side of Somewhere," her growing maturity as a songwriter is on full display, proving that she's no mere Swift clone; this is the sound of a talented original finally finding her own artistic voice.
Fans of modern country will find lots to love about "Other Side of Somewhere." The production is bright and crystal clear, and every one of these tracks is radio-ready straight out of the box.
And while Allen's sound is definitely rooted in the pastoral, this is no Patsy Cline record. Each track has been given a shiny pop sheen, with her voice placed front and center in the mix, more Martina McBride than Loretta Lynn. And there are hooks galore here too, with every tune sporting something memorable, be it a sing-along chorus or a toe-tapping verse guaranteed to keep these songs lodged in your brain for days.
The opening title track starts things off in fine upbeat fashion. It's a charming, feel-good summer song, all about not knowing what life will throw at you next and being perfectly OK with that idea.
"Other Side of Somewhere" segues nicely into what is perhaps the EP's catchiest song, "Rip Up Your Heart." An infectious hand-clapping backbeat lays the foundation for this one, in which Allen chides a friend who's constantly chasing after the wrong guy. "Rip Up Your Heart" is also the only track credited solely to Allen, and it's a nice example of her rapid development as a songwriter over the course of three EPs.
"So It Goes" is a poignant break-up ballad, but the mood is one of quiet resignation rather than despondency.
But the stand-out track of the EP is also the song that's the biggest departure from Allen's trademark pop country sound. "I'm on Your Side" is as sexy as anything Shania Twain's ever done, but its sassy brass and finger-snapping strut give it an almost jazz-like feeling, with Allen pouting and crooning breathlessly like Norah Jones. This one is a terrific example of Allen's range as a performer, and it would be fascinating to hear her cut a whole album in jazz chanteuse mode.
"What Are You Looking For" plants us solidly back in radio-friendly modern country mode, then the EP climaxes with a surprising cover.
Allen delivers a shockingly good version of Radiohead's classic "High and Dry," her version honoring the integrity of the original, while at the same time allowing her to put her own stamp on the song. The production gives it a high coat of Coldplay-esque gloss, and if this track ever reaches mainstream radio, Allen's got a bona fide hit on her hands.
How one feels about "Other Side of Somewhere" will depend largely on how one feels about modern country music. Still, there's enough catchiness and genuine heart on this album to satisfy even the pickiest of pop fans. Keep an eye on this young woman. Her talent and cross-over appeal are definitely going to take her someplace special.
Catch up with Allen's latest doings at www.amyallenmusic.com/, and be sure to catch her as part of the Alive at Five series in Portland's Monument Square on July 18. Allen's music can be purchased online and at all Bull Moose locations.
Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at email@example.com