Looks can sometimes be deceiving. Isaac Allen is a clean-cut young man in his mid-twenties. Promo pictures show him sitting casually at his piano strumming the keys. When he opens in mouth, however, he becomes a gritty singer/songwriter of the blues in the Tom Waits tradition.
Despite his young age, Allen can honestly say he has lived the blues. He spent his early childhood in northern Pennsylvania and Dryden, New York. At the age of six, his doctor father moved the family halfway around the world to Borneo. It was in the city of Balikpapan, Indonesia that he spent his formative years. It was then on to Malaysia and Singapore. After extended bouts with alcohol, Allen has settled in New Haven, Connecticut.
Like many of the classic bluesmen of the past, he has drawn upon his life’s experiences to paint his songs. His compositions travel on the dark side of life, exploring such themes as drugs, women of the night, the Devil, prison, suicide and death. If you are looking for an uplifting experience, this is not an album for you. If you are looking for an album of passionate and well-produced blues, though, then this is an album that needs to grace your music collection.
Don’t Smoke is Allen’s first album and he wrote all of the tracks. While his piano remains the central instrument, he is adept at incorporating brass and particularly a saxophone sound into the mix.
There are a number of highlights to be explored. “The Devil“ is a slow blues tune with a horn section and dobro supporting his piano, as the music goes through a number of tempo changes. I have never been exposed to the sax playing of Kris Jensen but his work on “Get Right” is exceptional as his tone precisely combines with Allen’s voice. The best track is “The Mouse In My Head.” Its music is chaotic with a number of tempo changes, yet there is an underlying melodic nature that is alluring.
Don’t Smoke introduces a fine young musician who not only plays the blues but has also lived them. Hopefully he will continue to draw on his life’s journey for more releases in the future.
Article first published as Music Review: Mr. Isaac Allen – Don’t Smoke on Blogcritics.