Thursday, December 31, 2015

Allison Bencar. First Call.

Allison Bencar. First Call.
Self-released, 2014.  Allison Bencar:

You’d think a librarian would remember that thing about books and covers. I hesitated when I looked at the pictures on the CD from this fresh faced Cleveland-raised, Nashville-based singer. Never having heard her, I thought, “modern hippie, singer-songwriter. Not my thing. Hand her off to another reviewer.” But I decided to give it a listen. Boy was I wrong. I’ve kept the CD. It’s quite remarkable. Bencar is anything but what I conceived her to be. Her frame of reference is different from almost anyone else her age. This is a musician who grew up listening to Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline, but sounds like this decade at the same time without falling into contemporary pop cliches. Her voice is a rich and strong alto, her songwriting is seriously sophisticated, and the variety of styles represented here suggests a breadth of talent that demands attention. Country, rock, ballads, pop, and stuff in-between make for a rather heady stew, and her backing band (including Clevelander Rob Muzick, with whom she co-wrote a couple of songs, and co-produced the album) is excellent.

While her influences are listed in her bio on the website, it was pretty easy to guess some of them while listening to the album. The first obvious one is Roy Orbison, in the track “Where Do the Lonely Go,” which seems like more of a tribute than an imitation. I think he would have been happy to sing along with this. “Before I Die” is haunted by Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac in her more bluesy vein, complete with keyboards, and Linda Ronstadt’s sound shows up in “Light It Up,” a song eerily similar to “You’re No Good” (which Bencar covers in a YouTube video). This is not to say she’s derivative. Lots of people are influenced by others (or maybe they wouldn’t have become musicians), and you can hear it in their songs. But nobody yells at the Rolling Stones for having tried to sound like Sonny Boy Williamson.

Other songs by Bencar are quite different, but clearly relate to sounds from other times and places, and that’s a good thing. This is part of her charm, because she sounds like nobody else around now. Her tunes are hook-filled, too country for rock, and too rock for country, which could damn her to the purgatory of Americana. “The Party” is a good example, part country, part cabaret. “Broken Porch” is another, a bit of a country weeper, but with chord changes that sound like indie pop. She starts to really rev up with “Before I Die,” and continues to rock out with “Won’t Be Coming Home,” country rock with a hard kick. The last two songs, “Anywhere with You” and “Who I Am,” have a gentle feel and soft flow that might make the hearts of older gentlemen melt. The band she has assembled is beyond reproach, adding just the right touches when needed, and playing well in any style.

Bencar shouldn’t be surprised to find a wide demographic for her music. I hope she gets some airplay on the radio for her songs. She deserves a huge audience. Her music is familiar but fresh, her voice endlessly listenable, and everything about this album is top notch.

Personnel:  Allison Bencar (vocals), Rob Muzick (guitar, pedal steel), John Senchuk (bass), Corey Hughes (drums), Eric Fritsch (accordion, toy piano). All songs written or co-written by Allison Bencar.
Tracks: First Call, Going Out, Where Do the Lonely Go, Sorry, The Party, Broken Porch, Before I Die, Won’t Be Coming Home, Light it Up, Anywhere with You, Who I Am.

Jeff Wanser

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