CD Review – Amy Allison – Everything and Nothing Too
Her best, strongest collection of songs. That’s quite an achievement for someone who already has a couple of genuine classic albums under her belt, The Maudlin Years and Sad Girl. Amy Allison is a master of the mot juste, the double or triple or quadruple entendre: no wonder Elvis Costello likes her so much. Until lately, she wrote country songs imbued with an inimitably droll wit and charm: it’s hard not to fall for the elegantly phrased klutz in all things romantic that she played to the hilt earlier in her career. But it’s never easy to tell whether she’s laying it on the line, messing with your head or doing both at the same time, and that’s the secret to her success. That, and that exquisite voice, which has taken on a darker tone recently, with a gravitas that didn’t used to creep into her often sidesplittingly funny lyrics. Technically speaking, she’s a terrific singer with soaring range and surprising power for someone whose twangy timbre falls thisclose to cartoonish. That she took that voice, ran with it and made it a thing of such strange, unique beauty testifies to her smarts as a musician (probably runs in the family: her dad is saloon jazz legend Mose Allison, without whom Tom Waits probably wouldn’t exist, or at the least wouldn’t be so popular).
Like her criminally underrated previous album No Frills Friend, this one is basically pop songs set to jangly, mostly midtempo guitar rock arrangements, a style Allison has mastered as she did country music, ten years ago. The cd kicks off with Don’t Go to Sleep, a jazzy pop gem that sounds like a dead ringer for something from mid-60s London. The next two tracks, Don’t You Know Anything and the album’s title track highlight Allison’s knowingly wise, terse lyricism. The fast, bouncy Out of Sight, Out of Mind wouldn’t be out of place on one of her country albums.
Right about here, it gets dark in a hurry. The next cut Troubled Boy, a snapshot of a (predictably) failed romance between a couple of troubled people, only hints at what’s to come. After that, Allison takes no prisoners on the what-on-earth-do-you-see-in-that-loser diatribe Have You No Pride? Then the sun sinks under the horizon, with Rose Red:
Snow White, Snow White
I’m Rose Red
Keep the wolf from my door
I will be a hothouse flower
And I’ll never go out anymore
It’s one of her most affecting and powerful songs, as is the album’s centerpiece, the depressive anthem Turn Out the Lights.
In my room
Far from the crowd
My bed’s a tomb
My quilt’s a shroud
I’ve had my fill
Of restless nights
I’d just as soon
Turn out the lights
It’s arguably her best song, an apt companion piece to the equally haunting title track from her previous album (sung from the point of view of a woman who’s so lonely that she’s willing to go out with a guy who literally won’t say a word to her). But just as everything seems to be ready to fall into the abyss, the album picks up with a rousingly guitarish cover of the Smiths’ vitriolic classic Every Day is Sunday, and concludes with a charming duet between Allison and her dad on his song Was – peep her myspace for the youtube video.
Allison is hilarious onstage: if you haven’t seen her you owe it to yourself, you are in for a treat. She plays Banjo Jim’s on Sat Apr 14 at 6 PM, then Mo Pitkins at 7:30 PM downstairs on Apr 19 and upstairs on Apr 26 at the same hour. Cds are available online and at shows.