Jim Allen

Straight Time

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Baby boomers may say that he sounds like a cross between Leonard Cohen and Waylon Jennings, but Gen-Xers are more likely to hear the gravelly voice, the lyrical depictions of life on the skids, and the modified country influences and decide that he's a cross between Tom Waits and Brad Roberts (Crash Test Dummies). Either way, the comparisons are apt if insufficient. Although there's more than a trace of Waits in the muttered lyrics and the weak-kneed conga rhythm of "Can't Shake Hands," and some Jennings in the defiant loser portrayed in "Nobody," no one will ever mistake Jim Allen for anyone else. His lyrics are intriguing and sometimes unsettling -- when he sings about going way down to the top of the world so that he can drown and come up smiling again because he knows that's where he'll find his true love, it's hard to know whether to smile or shudder. "Send word to the birds that by flying so high/They'll never get a damn thing done," he sings on "A Pearl in the Ocean." "Conjunto" is just that, an accordion-driven Tex Mex polka supporting lyrics of the grimmest fatalism. "Beauty" is twisted shards of guitar pop that may or may not be about heroin addiction. As with most really good songwriting, there's more to hear the more you listen.

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