WIDE OPEN SPACES Allain.
Veteran singer-songwriter Steve Allain has amassed an impressive resume over the years since his childhood days growing up in Marlborough, Massachusetts. He didn't start playing guitar until he was 18, and eventually graduated from the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, followed by a Bachelor's degree (as a classical guitar performance major), then earned his Master's degree in music composition from the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Luckily for us, Allain moved here six years ago and two years later he rediscovered his passion for songwriting when he joined the Rhode Island Songwriters Association (he now resides in Barrington). Allain's new debut album Thirteen ($9.99 at cdbaby.com and iTunes) is a well-crafted recording that cuts across acoustic blues, country, and folk genres (or "Progressive Folk," as catalogued by cdbaby.com), with introspective lyrics of family, love, loss, and war.
"I've always been a songwriter at heart, but it wasn't until I moved to Rhode Island that I returned to, and have focused on, songwriting again," Allain acknowledged earlier this week.
And he has earned the respect of many notable peers, which was evident from the bill at Allain's CD release show last week at Local 121, where the Sugar Honey Iced Tea and Becky Chace opened. On the new album, Chace Band guitarist Brian Minisce provides additional six-string action, and Sugar Honey vocalist Kate Jones is a stunning harmony partner.
"Steve draws upon many different styles seamlessly," said Minisce. "He's one of the best guitar players around and a truly positive force in the local music scene."
Chace also offered her thoughts via email. "Steve Allain is a thoughtful, crafty songwriter with a whole lot of depth, and I absolutely love his new album."
The burly and bearded card-carrying RISA mainstay (Allain hosts the group's biweekly Saturday Songwriter Series at the Brooklyn Tea & Coffee House) will stay busy this summer with shows booked in Jamestown, Newport, and Coventry (check steveallain.com for dates), and this weekend he will join a stacked roster of acoustic talent at the Locals as part of "This Is Providence: An Original Music Showcase." He also has a slot at the Artists' Exchange Music Fest in Cranston on Saturday, June 25 (with 30 acts on three stages over two days; Allain will perform around 3 pm).
Allain graduated from a French high school in Canada (his last name is pronounced Ah-Lane), and revisits moments past with his dad (who passed away 15 years ago) on the opening track, "My Father's Only Son," instantly peeling back the memories with a touching, stinging line: "We sat for hours but said nothing, and watched the swallows build their mud homes while ignoring our own walls that were eroding." Allain's background pays off with varied styles along the 12 cuts here (wait for the passing helicopter attack following "Nocturne No 1" for a thirteenth track Allain calls "La Guerre"), as he cheekily picks up the pace on "Crooked Shed" ("Pleased to meet you, I'm a mess/Let me teach you my success") and presents a pair of bluesy, back-porch strummers with "Corner" and "Dirty Little Town." On "See No Evil," he calls for the wars to end ("Now, imagine if you were there, dead bodies strewn everywhere . . . There are no angels here, only empty shelves and fear"). And Allain and Jones make for a phenomenal pairing on four outstanding tracks: "Good For You," "Trouble and Heartache," "If Only (I Had Known)," and "To Love." (I would welcome an entire album by this vocally-gifted duo).