Amy Allison

No Frills Friend

There's an old expression about the apple not falling too far from the tree. In Amy Allison's case it's true, after a fashion. Allison is the daughter of the great jazz and blues pianist/singer Mose Allison (from whose pen came "Young Man Blues," covered passionately by the Who). Her first two excellent albums, The Maudlin Years (one of Elvis Costello's all-time favorites) and Sad Girl, were lean, soulful, honky-tonk-styled country, à la the Appalachian-descended styles of Iris DeMent and Loretta Lynn. Allison's new platter departs substantially from her previous sound, but retains her distinctively mournful, somewhat nasal warble and her gift for simple yet sturdy melodies. While her genre path diverges from her father's, they share a similar succinctness, wry humor, and keen eye for the perils of the human condition.

Recorded in Scotland with producer David Scott (who also plays most of the instruments), No Frills Friend is a gem of despondent, shimmering pop/folk/rock balladry. "Thank God for the Wine" is a study in unique contrast, as it blends rich, languorous guitars with Patsy Cline's yearning country/torch sound, yet is driven along by crisp timekeeping. The girl-group evocation "Baby, You're the One" is an utter charmer, with its "Be My Baby"-style dramatic drum intro, perky handclaps on the bridge, background vocals packed with Noo Yawk street-corner 'tude, and an adorable cute-as-a-kitten chorus. With its swirling acoustic guitars, autumnal melody, and breezily propulsive drumming, "Pretty Things to Buy" sounds like it could be a lost slice of Paul Simon or Gordon Lightfoot '60s folk/pop melancholia -- and it contains a most incisive couplet: "All that waste of time/ Is what makes you sublime." Combining forlorn (but never sentimental or narcissistic) lyricism with smart, engaging songcraft, No Frills Friend is a well-nigh perfect pop confection -- it's excellent company for your misery on a gloomy Saturday.

 
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