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Jon Allen – Sweet Defeat

Jon Allen, Sweet Defeat

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

HAVING been hailed as one of 2009’s ‘indie success stories’ by the Sunday Times following the release of his debut album Dead Man’s Suit, Jon Allen now attempts to overcome difficult second album syndrome with sophomore LP, Sweet Defeat.

The result, once again produced by Tristan Longworth and supported ably by the same group of musicians who contributed to his debut, is an assured, if unspectacular listen that should cement Allen’s position as a troubadour of note.

Building on the same Americana/acoustic traditions that informed his debut, this sophomore session ranges from solo finger picked songs like Last Orders to the rousing rock of No One Gets Out Of Here Alive.

There are comparisons to be found with both Van Morrison and Bob Dylan at certain points, as well as more contemporary companions such as Ray Lamontagne.

Allen’s lyricism, meanwhile, continues to be intelligent and often deeply personal, utilising his sometimes husky, sometimes laidback vocals to bring out the emotion.

The Americana moments include album opener and former single Joanna, which almost swoops to Rod Stewart levels of huskiness and invites the listener to head on a road trip, and Time To Cry, which almost carries a Yellow Brick Road vibe around its country-tinged guitars and piano.

Sometimes, the album is guilty of being over familiar… with Allen’s laidback style sometimes sending the listener into a slumber. It’s a failing highlighted all the more by some of its more lively moments, which you tend to feel Allen should do more of.

Lucky I Guess, for example, picks up the tempo nicely, with a foot-stomping blues-rock vibe and an Eagles/Glenn Frey sound reminiscent of Smuggler’s Blues. While the aforementioned No One Gets Out of Here Alive wrong-foots you with a sombre piano opening before dropping some truly rousing guitar work and showcasing Allen at his most charismatic and edgy.

Had the album even offered two or three more such moments, it may have added up to a more satisfying whole. But Allen seems to be most comfortable in slow-build guise, or stripped back and simple, and therefore opts for more balladry.

This can still be appealing on moments like Last Orders and Think of You, but sometimes feels a little too similar and in need of winding up on Here Tonight.

But criticisms aside, Allen seems to be progressing nicely. And don’t write off the chances of a rousing rock album just yet!

Download picks: No One Gets Out of Here Alive, Lucky I Guess, Last Orders, Time To Cry

Track listing:

  1. Joanna
  2. Stealing Away
  3. Time To Cry
  4. Broken Town
  5. Lucky I Guess
  6. Think of You
  7. Sweet Defeat
  8. Love’s Made A Fool Out of Me
  9. Here Tonight
  10. No One Gets Out of Here Alive
  11. Last Orders