Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Album Review: Deborah Allen - Hear Me Now

Singer-songwriter Deborah Allen enjoyed a run of country hits in the early eighties, some of which achieved modest pop crossover success, with her best-known hit being "Baby I Lied." But she's also made a name for herself in songwriting, achieving cuts by a wide range of artists from Brooks & Dunn to Patty Loveless to Fleetwood Mac.

Though some of her early eighties hits have somewhat dated arrangements that haven't always aged well, her new album Hear Me Now is a fun, entertaining mash-up of genre styles - Approximately 60% country, 20% pop and rock, 20% gospel, and 100% Deborah Allen. Though electric, acoustic, and steel guitars, as well as fiddle and organ all make an appearance, the most unique and interesting instrument of all is Deborah's voice - raw, gritty, powerful, and so expressive.

Highlights include the just-found-true-love celebration "Hands On," which combines an unshakably joyous melody and performance with a subtle layer of sexiness. She travels similar lyrical territory with the following two tracks, but offers different musical variations. It goes from the light airy pop-country sound of "Hands On" to the soft bluesy vibe of "All Because of You," while "Never Gonna Run Out of Love" sounds like one big funky groovy jam session.

Just as the album is threatening to get a little too happy, Deborah takes a different direction with the sad acoustic ballad "Last Time for Everything." She gives a performance that is unpolished and imperfect, but that nails the most important aspect of a great country song - emotional sincerity. Also enjoyable is "Amazing Graceland," an effective tribute to the legendary Elvis Presley, inspired by Deborah's own visit to his hallowed mansion. She gives a nuanced performance with some interesting vocal flourishes, which further elevates the track.

The rocked-up ditty "It Better Be Big" stands out as a bit of an oddity on the album, offering a musical take on the "Big girls need big diamonds" philosophy which may connect more with female listeners than males. Either way, Deborah's rapid-fire delivery is enjoyable, and the song also earns a point or two for creativity in rhyming "Lexus" with "a Rolex the size of Texas." Lead single "Anything Other Than Love," written in response to her stepdaughter's remark that she writes too many love songs, finds an emotionally-bruised narrator who has sworn off love, only to become perturbed when she finds those feelings of infatuation welling up inside of her once again. The danceable two-step style fits the witty lyrics like a glove.

With organic musical arrangements and consistently showstopping vocal performances, Hear Me Now is a fun and engaging listen that is most definitely worth hearing.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)