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Friday, August 7, 2009

Review: Aaron Allen - A Place Called Hell

Aaron Allen - A Place Called Hell
2009, Aaron Allen

Chatham, Ontario, Canada's Aaron Allen wears big shoes quietly. His second album, Aaron Allen & The Small City Saints was on CHRW's Top 100 albums list for 2008, with chart appearances in cities such as Guelph, London, Quebec, Windsor and Calgary. He writes for late night talk show J.R. Diggs' Man With A Van, and has developed a reputation for powerful and introspective songwriting. Allen's third album, A Place Called Hell is a family affair, with brother Myles on drums and wife Aimee on harmonies, piano, organ and bass. Influences such as Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams and Neil Young color Allen's songwriting, which is rich in tapestry and deep in content.

A Place Called Hell opens with No One Knows, a plodding bit of Emo/Shoegaze/Americana that is a difficult listen. A Placed Called Hell is a straight-forward bit of Americana about hitting bottom and being totally aware to the extent of attempting to come to terms with it. It's a stark and resigned song that's almost too calm. Anyone is something of a quasi-peppy pity party set to music. Backbone hits on a down and dirty blues riff for a song about carnal pleasure as an escape from the dregs. You won't be able to sit/stand still while this one is playing. Allen goes for the acoustic side on New Blues, a song that contends that things never work out and the whole thing (life) is rigged.

Moving On is a classic bit of acoustic/electric blues. The lyrics don't matter on this one, you'll just be glad you listened. Oh My Lord takes the blues on a more Rock angle, halfway between Led Zeppelin and Cream. This is by far the best tune on the disc up to this point. Run is a gorgeous piece of self-loathing. The guitar accompaniment is soothing and calm while the lyrics are the pulpy aftermath of a beaten psyche. Dark and light intermingle here for a work of beauty that's as uplifting as it is depressing. A Song For Her is a musical eulogy of sorts; A Place Called Hell was written in the wake up Allen's mother's death. Taken from that perspective the entire album is about healing; or not as the case may be. A Song For Her is full of love; written from an emotionally constricted place that anyone who's ever lost someone dear will recognize. You'll also want to check out I Woke Up Today and You And Me.

A Place Called Hell is an album that leaves me conflicted as a listener and critic. I want to like it in part because of what it represents, and in many instances I do, but there are times when the feel of album, in spite of the back story, is more about holding on to pain than healing. This may have simply reflect where Allen was emotionally in the crafting of this disc, yet without the back story (and maybe even with it), I could see some listeners drawing the conclusion that A Place Called Hell is largely self-indulgent in perpetuating suffering rather than healing. Allen is a decent songwriter, who rises above on occasion, and there are some great turns here, but the overall feel of the record is not one that is likely to draw a lot of fans outside of the Robert Smith worshippers (and yea, there are many). It's a decent, dark effort; I'll look forward to seeing where Allen goes next.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Aaron Allen at You can stream the tracks from A Place Called Hell on Allen’s MySpace page. No word yet on a release date, but Allen’s first CD can be purchase directly through his MySpace page.

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