New Jersey songwriter Kevin John Allen continues his musical journey with the release of The Long Road Of Life. Out on the highway, playing bars, theaters, state fairs and just about any other venue that will have him, Allen has always kept one true goal in mind, and that goal is to initiate music lovers so that they tag along on his carnival ride through real-time storytelling. From Maine to Texas, Allen is keenly focused when it comes to spreading the word about the very road he travels.
Kevin John Allen is definitely no stranger to that open highway, and for a writer that has logged well over 200 published works, he shows no signs making detours or slowing down. His songs are actively featured in television, movies, commercials and they have been covered by several other artists.
He’s been the recipient of multiple awards and recognitions that herald his standout brand of songwriting style, but at the end of the day, Allen’s passionate reason for writing remains unwavering. He’s a storyteller who revels in the moment of transcending time through verse. He says on his page, “I’m a weathered old traveler, writing about folks and places that pass us by. On a starry night in the quiet of the crowd, that’s what songwriting is all about.”
And that’s the recurring theme on The Long Road Of Life. Recorded at several studios including RCA in Nashville, Allen delivers a massive 23-track platter of music featuring seasoned national (and local) vets. Players such as Jerzy Jung, Michael Gilbert Ronstadt, John Farrell and Gary Oleyar grace the disc, along with a list of gifted folks too long to print here.
I took a detailed listen, moving around the tracks to get as many opinions as I could fit within the page parameters, and this is what I found.
Kevin kicks off the disc in just the way I would expect him to. “So Happy” is a whistling tune that reminds me of something from a psychedelic-based 1970s kids show. The song is oddly alluring in that mysterious, almost British way, and Allen warbles over a back and forth minor-major of upbeat and jangling cheery acoustic guitar work. It’s his best foot forward and a most communicative act of free-wheeling down the road to jubilation.
The record namesake features the trademarked Allen baritone all dressed up in pianos, cello (courtesy of Michael Gilbert Ronstadt) and the pedal steel gold of John Farrell. The song itself follows traditional patterns used throughout the 1970s by guys like Charlie Rich and Kris Kristofferson, spinning imagery of yesterdays and the wisdom that only time spent in the trenches can bring. The harmony work is addictive and is sewn up with Allen’s myriad of guest vocalist.
“Count On Me” features the vocal assist of April Kelly. Strings surge under Allen’s plaintive dedication of dependability as he steps back to make room for April Kelly, who comes in for verse two before joining Allen for the chorus. Allen has an extremely standalone voice that doesn’t match up with just any singer, and Kelly fits the mix perfectly. Pianos glimmer and sparkle music box notes into the bridge before the singers spin their waltzing round robin of lyrical wordplay into the end.
“Surrender” brings in the incomparable Layonne Holmes. Comprised of big cowboy guitar runs and truck stop, pedal steel bends, Allen and company extend the hand of assistance and love as Holmes lays gospel-tinged vibe all over the choruses. With at least five guitarists on the record, it’s hard to tell who’s featured where, but whoever is laying down electric work here lends a great Chris Isaak feel for the track.
If there is one song that sums up Kevin John Allen as a road weary troubadour, it’s “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You.” Accompanied by mournfully brilliant string work, Allen tells the open and intimate tale of undying devotion and love. But for me, it’s more about how he does it than the musical progression he’s using to get there. Allen’s baritone flows over and around the arrangement like a slow rolling river around sturdy rocks. String surges at key verse points, adding desolate and beautifully contrasting color as Allen rides the heart aching pains of love. One of the most memorable highlights is when he hits the first note in the chorus at around 3:13. It’s one of those rare moments when the hair goes up on the back of your neck, and that’s what it’s all about. The bridges are also extremely interesting, sort of in the vein of early ELO, wandering off the beaten path to gallop across minor chord fields before rejoining the major choruses.
“Lollipop Angel” sends up the red flag of intent with its raucous, Paul Revere & The Raiders vibe. The slide guitar work is reminiscent of George Harrison fretwork and Allen gets down in the dirt, relishing the story of the woman we all really want as he hunkers into his rusty, grit-filled Tom Waits delivery. Guitars vamp and chime in chorus and verse as bass and drums kick it Monkees style. Loaded with attitude, tongue-in-cheek adoration and a coveted desire for that wantonly womanly form, it’s one of my favorite songs on the disc.
Brianna Eve joins the record on “Like A Rose.” Eve is one of those effortless singers that immediately turn heads. Toned and expressive, she is my favorite for Allen’s writing style. Her chorus extensions entwine with strings perfectly. Allen does a great job of producing here, holding instrumentation in check and steering throughout his chosen spectrum of sections to enhance before moving back out of the path of this pristine singer.
“Mr. Lucky” slides in on Steely Dan wings as organs whirl, swirl and swing under the walking blues rhythms of drummer Bob Beucler and bassist John Mulrenan. The music slinks and stalks, clearing the deck and sidewinding for the soulful Jerzy Jung. I’ve written so much about Jung that it’s almost pointless to continue, but continue I will. Jerzy has so much power and sultry soul that I can never get enough. She’s the poster girl for unstoppable, and her easy delivery rolls a double six straight into your head and heart on “Mr. Lucky.”
Cat London is the next up in Allen’s able stable of scene singers. “Never Forget To Dream” is the vehicle London rides in on. With a style akin to Tori Amos, London’s intimate and passionate voice takes the listener on a succinct journey through soprano level storytelling. Her bold, pitch marinated melodies takes a listen or two to get comfortable with, but once you’re there it’s a quick 4:17 that will have you hitting the rewind button more than once.
There is so much I didn’t get to touch base on, including many instrumental pieces featuring some of the area’s most talented players, but I would implore you to seek out this record and listen for yourself. With 23 diverse and unpredictable songs ranging from love and lust to exultation and regret, The Long Road Of Life is a fast moving musical pictorial that will attract the interest of several different types of listeners.
Like his last record that I reviewed, Dark Songs Written On Black Guitars, The Long Road Of Life is a well-built vehicle that speeds Kevin John Allen along his never-ending journey to the next town, the next fan and the next fulfilling destination on his musical pilgrimage of life.
For more information on Kevin John Allen and The Long Road Of Life, head over to facebook.com/KEVINJOHNALLEN.