After reading that Jon Allen’s music is reminiscent of that of the 60s/70s folk rock scene, my hopes for Deep River, his third studio album, were somewhat high. The track names, including Lady of The Water, Hummingbird Blues and Fire in My Heart, reminded me instantly of some of Johnny Flynn and Seth Lakeman’s songs, reinforcing the high expectations I had for Allen’s album.
However, opening track Night and Day was not what I expected. Instead of the typically husky, vibrato-tinged folky vocals I had anticipated, Allen’s rich and deep vocals would not sound out of place in a dark little jazz and blues club. Second track, Lady of the Water, is more true to my expectations, with its melancholic and nostalgic acoustic guitar and the ethereal story woven throughout. However, instead of falling into quaint Ben Howard territory, Allen’s dulcet and earthy tones keep it surprisingly refreshing listening.
The standout track of the album is easily Hummingbird Blues. Here Allen’s musical talent is showcased in the intricate guitar accompaniment, which frames the vocal melody beautifully. Lyrically and melodically, Hummingbird Blues echoes the great folk singers of the past, yet does not attempt to replicate or equal them. One of the most admirable qualities of this track in particular is the way in which Allen keeps it simple; by not overcomplicating it, his talent is able to shine through.
In direct contrast to this, Fire in my Heart lives up to the ‘rock’ element of folk-rock, with its more upbeat tone, jazzy piano and electric guitar solo.
One of the albums flaws is the filler tracks, which are completely unnecessary and detract from the little gems like Hummingbird Blues and All The Money’s Gone. In the more average tracks, namely Falling Back and title track Deep River, Allen falls into bizarrely David Gray and Stereophonics territory, evoking an extremely middle-of-the-road 2000s dad-rock feel. I half-expected him to suddenly start wailing the chorus to Babylon or Maybe Tomorrow- don’t get me wrong, I love those songs, but it felt extremely out of place in an album describing itself as ‘folk’.
Deep River is certainly an album of ups and downs, fluctuating between tracks that feel extremely self-assured, which is to be expected of a third album, and songs that border mediocrity. However, the odd bland track aside, the album as a whole is most definitely worth a listen, even if just for Hummingbird Blues.