Inescapable is the reggae/Dave Matthews/Jack Johnson musical thread that runs through the album. The set is less a traditional Stratocaster-driven blues/rock record than an homage to a groovier, smokier day. Lyrically, Allen still takes dives into the Duke Tumatoe school of writing: sassy and ribald words mixing with jamming lead guitar (albeit less than previous records) with plenty of room for the band to breathe. But the album stretches to be more than a record of blues guitar sounds.
From the opener "Three Little Words", Allen pushes forward his agenda of a polished, powerful production while revealing a Phish and Dead vibe. Though he lets loose a few solos (notably a nearly two-minute guitar fire on "Lazy") Allen, drummer Shaan France and bass players Dave Robie and Ethan James are steadfast in maintaining a sound that never completely blows into musical jamming territory. That's a good thing, mind you. This is Allen's best sounding and most mature record to date.
That said, there are bits of indulgent matter, including the aforementioned "Lazy", one man's ode to staying on the couch, watching TV, belching and masturbating. But for every poor man's Tumatoe moment (and there are a handful - I'm looking at you "Master Bedroom") there are beautiful chord changes and pieces of music that are his best ever. "Carina's Song" soars as a mid-tempo lament, with bright major chords into just the right amount of minor chords to color it melancholy. "Know Your Rights" succeeds as a Bob Marley-influenced instruction manual on how to handle the cops when they come a-knockin'.
And then there's the album closer, a stone-cold killer version of Tupac's "California Love", complete with some Auto-Tune and rapping. No song on the record impacts more forcibly, with lyrics or music. Amazing performance from a white blues dude from Indiana. Shows both the depth of Allen's talent, and the brilliance of Tupac's songwriting.
It also presents a reason for Allen to continue to grow as a songwriter. His playing, especially live, is simultaneously guttural, gifted and sonically beautiful. His lyrics and writing still have room for some stronger, human condition understanding. Each of his past five albums hints at a deeper talent waiting to come out. This sixth record is a worthy slant to his style, and shows a more versatile side to one of the core blues artists of Indiana.
Max Allen Band
June 4 at Booney's in Avon, IN - 8187 E. US Hwy 36 (Rockville Rd) - 8:00pm
Max Allen (solo)
July 2 Chateau Thomas Winery, 8235 E 116th St, Fishers - 7:00pm
July 3 The Cabana Room, 36 E Main St, Brownsburg, IN - 9:00pm