As the year begins to round third and head to a close, I have been preaching the Americana gospel about new record releases from singer-songwriters that hail from all parts of the country. Stationed here on the frontier of Northeast Ohio, there are some talented local folks who play three chords and the truth as full time musicians, who deserve to be heard beyond the 216 and 330 area codes. One of those is Chris Allen, who just released a beautiful new record Everything Changes But the Rodeo, which requires more than 15 minutes of listening.
Chris Allen loves Cleveland. It’s part of his DNA from growing up here and getting turned on to music when the city was an epicenter for breaking bands with radio airplay and concerts. Though others have left to pursue their musical dream elsewhere, Allen has remained as one of our more gifted troubadours, playing bars and nightclubs around town on a regular basis. Some may know him from his days with the band Rosavelt, who made some national waves with their alt-country sound from 1996-2004, with their debut album Carp & Bones and then Transistor Blues, along with backing fellow Ohioan Tim Easton on tour in support for his solo debut Special 20. The road was hard on the band, with members falling out as Rosavelt was turning into mostly a Chris Allen solo project. Allen’s decision to make the move to go out on his own as a solo artist was greatly influenced by Don Dixon, who produced the boys Sony Red Eye release The Story of Gasolineand has been behind the boards for Allen’s subsequent four solo releases includingGoodbye Girl and the Big Apple Circus, Things Unbroken, and Acetate.
For Allen’s latest record, he began writing songs last winter with longtime childhood friend and accomplished blues musician “Walkin’ Cane” Charanghat. The ten resulting tracks paint a portrait of a year where co-owner of the hipster watering hole Happy Dog and high school friend Sean Kilbane tragically died in a freak accident. Not only is the album dedicated to Sean’s memory, but Allen recorded the Kilbane penned rocker “Carrington” which is placed as the closing song to the soundtrack. Lead guitarist Allen assembled the crew of Tom Prebish (bass), Mark Stepro (drums), along with Dixon (keyboards, guitar) and headed to a small family-owned cabin in upstate New York to record where no cell phone or internet service would disrupt the four day process. Found amongst the charm of his Uncle Bud’s cabin were a stack of cowboy novels. One of the books Allen picked up was titled Everything Changes But the Rodeo. Allen doesn’t know what it means, but it meant a lot and the perfect name for the record.
The album opens up with the radio friendly “It’s Too Late to Cry” that will immediately hook the listener followed by a gorgeous ballad “Words On a Page” that will reel you in. Rain from the front porch adds sound effects to “Summer Never Came” and “Waiting On the Night to Come” will have the listener singing along. A song written for his baby daughter called “You Gotta Run” is an upbeat rocker that flows into “Second Life Starts” where moving forward back in time, sooner or later it all collides. A gritty lead guitar rips through the rocking single “Only One First Love” and the country laced “Lucero” offers some beautiful harmonies with a touch of that western guitar riff in the bridge. “Dead Letter” was written by Prebish adds a litte of that dancebilly country punk from the Pogues cover band Boys From Country Hell that he and Allen perform in a handful of dates throughout the year. The album was pressed to vinyl at Cleveland’s much heralded Gotta Groove Records plant where Allen and Dixon where able to watch and appreciate the complicated manufacturing process.
As the holidays approach, the spirit of the season offers a musical mix by another of Allen’s side projects The Ohio City Singers. Inspired by his father who asked Allen to pen a holiday song, the singer-songwriter gathered a wealth of talented musicians to perform enough original compositions like “White Cleveland Christmas,” “Egg Nog,” “Real Good Christmas Time,” and “Holiday Hop” to create a record back in 2008 called Love and Hope and help raise money for the Coats for Kids charity campaign. The all-star band of merry-makers includes Doug McKean, Austin “Walkin’ Cane” Charanghat, Brent Kirby, Tom Prebish, Matt Sobol, Nick Stipanovich, Kelly Wright, and the great Don Dixon who also produced the album and subsequent releases Snow Days(2011) andA Town Called Christmas(2013). You can catch the band Music Box Supper Club for a family oriented show on Dec. 6 The Tremont Brewhaha Holiday Pop-UP Shop Party on Dec. 12 which will also feature local artisans and Farmers Market vendors, House of Blues on Dec. 19, and the GAR Hall on Dec. 20. Keeping with tradition, all performances will have Coats For Kids on hand for accepting donations.
Music is the thread that connects us all together and helps foster friendships. From the heart of Liner Notes and Minkin’s Music, we thank folks like Chris Allen who continue to play it forward. Give Everything Changes But The Rodeoa spin on the turntable and hear a slice of the talent that continues to come out of my hometown.