Album Review: Beijing-based Eric Allen's Self-Titled Debut Album

By Djang San, April 21, 2021

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Eric Allen’s self-titled, debut LP, Eric Allen, is a slice of Americana borne of memories, loss and hope. 

All the tracks were recorded as entirely acoustic, without drums, electric guitar, or electric bass. 

These songs were written by Eric in 2018 and 2019, and draw from blues, folk and outlaw country. The LP includes songs about life on the road (All on Death Row, Holy Rollin’), hope (Night Falls Again), and longing (She Waits). Many tracks, including ‘Rattlesnake Mama’ and ‘Stillhouse Blues,’ are influenced by the songwriter’s southern ancestral roots.

This LP is dedicated in three respects: First and foremost to the memory of the artist’s father, Yancey, a musician and factory worker about whom the song ‘40 Years’ was written; second to Eric’s sister’s home that burned in the 2018 Malibu fires (which inspired ‘Really Miss’); and third to the artist’s adopted home of New York City (which inspired ‘In Me’).

I met Eric Allen a few years ago in Beijing. At the time, he was playing covers of Blues and Country music around the city, gigging as most musicians in Beijing in venues such as Jianghu, Home Plate, Modernista, Temple, etc.

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Many nights around a good whisky we talked and talked about music, how to record, where to record, why make an album, what to express and the difficulties of sometimes finding inspiration.

Then Eric decided to actually record an album and release it.

As soon as I put played and heard that raunchy voice, I entered a trip into America’s countryside. 

For the first two tracks ‘Night Falls Again’ and ‘She Waits,’ I was caught by the melancholy of the lyrics and the feeling of nostalgia that came out of the melodies.

“My guitar moans its lonesome cowboy song,” he says and that’s exactly what it sounds like.

‘Night Falls Again’ is a good introduction to the album – it already has these backup vocals that characterize a lot of the tracks and that melancholy and nostalgia that floats throughout the whole album.

Then comes the song ‘She Waits’ based on a true story, the story of a mother who waited for her son to return for 32 years. 

Check the MV for ‘She Waits’ below (VPN off):

The third track, ‘Rattlesnake Mama’ is sort of a mix between Primus and Captain Beefheart still rooted in Country and Blues. The bouncing guitars and bass tell the tale of a restless rattlesnake mama, one of the more upbeat tracks on the album.

As said in the intro, ‘Really Miss’ is about Eric’s sister’s home that burnt in the 2018 fires in Malibu. The track gets the album into nostalgia before going to the next track ‘Stillhouse Blues’ that brings us back to Blues with great harmonica playing and singing that reminded me of Howlin Wolf.

‘40 Years’ is probably my favorite track on the album. It is about Eric’s father, and it’s probably the song I can identify with the most as a musician. The way the melody intertwines with the cello is just great, very good work here on both arrangements and composition.

‘Hello My Soul’ is the seventh track on the album has a great melody – not my favorite but does help to present the album and the singer. The lyrics also seem to talk about the singer’s difficulty to find inspiration and how he finally found his soul to create this album.

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The song ‘All on Death Row’ is another one of my favorites on the album and is about one of Eric’s friend, a bounty hunter. 

I didn’t understand the song’s lyrics at first so I got Eric to explain it to me: “Life on the road as a bounty hunter is not easy, and even though he knows this life will kill him, he still goes on, because that’s all he knows. The lines about cancer are a metaphor, it’s a hard life, but that’s all he knows.”

Check the MV for ‘All on Death Row’ below (VPN off):

The next song ‘Bartender’s guitar’ seems to have something in common with ‘All on Death Row’ as the two songs share a line in the lyrics “It’s a long way home when you’re going downhill,” but the song is darker and deals with loneliness, drinking and losing yourself. 

The track reminds me of the band Moriarty’s track ‘Jimmy,’ check it out if you don’t know it.

With more great cello arrangements, ‘Ugly Dog’ is based on a Jimi Hendrix-like acoustic guitar riff that accelerates and slows down to create a feeling of distorted pain dealing with impossible love – definitely my second favorite on the album.

‘Road Travels on’ is another track about leaving and looking for one’s soul and is supplemented by beautiful background vocals.

Back to blues with ‘Holy Rollin’,’ something closer to Robert Johnson, this song is like being at the crossroad signing your soul away to the devil.

The last track on the album ‘In Me’ is a nice track to end the album, I guess Saint John is also looking upon Eric Allen and his music.

Eric Allen’s self-titled album was recorded in Beijing and is now available on QQ music among other outlets.

This article originally appeared on Beijing Underground and has been republished with the author’s permission.

[Images via Beijing Underground]

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