On 18th May 2018, the highly acclaimed singer-songwriter Jon Allen returns with his fourth album Blue Flame, a soulful confection of feel-good tunes delivered with Allen’s inimitable whisky-soaked voice.
In these troubled and uncertain times, Allen invites the listener to turn off their Twitter feed, log-out of Facebook and, instead, turn up the volume and sink into the rich and reassuringly soothing sounds of his first album in four years.
From the infectious optimism of the Blue Flame’s opening soul shuffle ‘Jonah’s Whale’ (the album’s first single, which is released on 9th March) to the resolute ‘Keep On Walking’ and the poignant-yet-hopeful refrain of ‘Better Day’, Allen illuminates the common experiences of joy, love, loss and change, ultimately reminding us it is what we share that matters more than what divides us.
Even when Allen sings his ode to Donald Trump, ‘It’s Just The End Of The World’, he somehow manages to make the prospect of a looming apocalypse sound a little more palatable – or at least a little less terrifying.
Winchester-born Allen was originally discovered by Mark Knopfler in 2006 (who later offered to play guitar for him), but it was the single ‘In Your Light’ from Allen’s 2009 debut album Dead Man’s Suit that landed him a coveted spot on “Later…with Jools Holland”.
Introducing Allen, Holland described how he heard him on the radio and had to Shazam the track with his phone to find out who the singer was before insisting he was booked for the show. “It was one of the most amazing voices I’ve heard this year,” he explained.
Allen’s second album ‘Sweet Defeat’ (2011) continued his rise, spawning the Radio 2 A-listed hit track ‘Joanna’ – the song that made it onto the soundtrack of the global TV smash Homeland. It also landed Allen a featured slot on the BBC’s Glastonbury TV coverage. “It was Beyoncé then me! I like to think that she supported me,” Allen says.
Allen toured extensively during this period, both solo and with his band, appearing with Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris, Seal (who would tell Jon every day he should be making soul records) and Damien Rice, amongst others. Allen also became a TV star in the Netherlands, prompting him to sarcastically remark, “In a year or two I could be a judge on the Dutch version of ‘The Voice’.
‘Deep River’, Allen’s last album, released in 2014, received the best reviews of his career to-date from the UK’s national press and was made BBC Radio 2’s ‘Album of The Week’. After his UK tour to promote ‘Deep River’, Jon to a break to write songs with and for other artists, while also writing music for films.
While all Jon’s previous albums contained soulful elements, ‘Blue Flame’ represents his first out-and-out soul record. However, it’s not the first time Allen has thrown himself into a record with a classic soul vibe, having worked with producer Tristan Longworth in 2009 on a side project called ‘The Third Degree’.
Together, the pair took modern pop hits by female artists and covered them to sound as if they were authentic soul records recorded in the 1960s.
One of The Third Degree’s tracks, a cover of Duffy’s ‘Mercy’, became an underground hit, featured in the screen adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s book ‘Filth’ and, eventually, caught the ear of record producer and founding president of Rolling Stones Records, Marshall Chess, whose father and uncle founded Chicago’s legendary blues and R&B label, Chess Records.
“Marshall decided to release our record on his label,” says Allen. “I remember when I first met him he said, “When I heard your cover of ‘Mercy’ I thought you were a black woman”. I took that as a compliment.”
It was the experience of immersing himself in the production and vibe of classic recordings of the sixties and seventies from iconic record labels such as Motown, Stax, Atlantic and Chess that made Allen think it would be great to bring more of that earthiness to his sound for Blue Flame’s recording sessions.
Allen said, “The great thing for me about soul music is even when you are singing a sad song there is joyfulness that comes through. I have also always liked how Bill Withers and Bobby Womack were able to combine folk music elements like acoustic guitar and make it sound so soulful and funky. I decided for Blue Flame that it was time for me to have my cake and eat it too.”
Focussing on the album’s first single, Allen said, “‘Jonah’s Whale’ is about the blind joy of love. ‘The world maybe going down the tubes but I’m in love and everything’s fine’…that sort of idea. I guess it’s a bit selfish in that sense but, hey, it’s a great feeling.”
Jon Allen will announce plans for a UK tour shortly.