Charles Allison
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Charles Allison

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Apr
28
Charles Allison @ Barking Legs Theatre

Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

Mar
13
Charles Allison @ Barking Legs Theatre

Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

Feb
15
Charles Allison @ Tremont Tavern

Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

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Charles Allison's general approach to music can be summed up quickly with a few lines taken from a 'declaration of independence' on his website: "Music matters and doesn't need to be validated by big companies. Records made by regular people with an earnest love of rock and roll are the best kind."

That sort of approach pretty well describes Braced in the Beams, a recording that's catchy without relying on swift hooks and smooth without being slick and over-produced. The best way to describe Allison's material here is laid-back, and the best way to categorize his music is ... well, to say it references a great many things while really not overtly sounding like any of them.
The first thing to notice about Braced in the Beams is the production values. The record sounds very good, and it's obvious that a good amount of time and effort were spent mixing the disc. However, the sound is far from slickly and brazenly Pro Tools edited, and as such, a cozy, homey sort of lo-fi log cabin vibe emanates from the songs here. Within any handful of songs, hints of 60s style pop music (a la the Beach Boys and the Zombies), alt-country (a la May/June and the Decemberists), and singer/songwriter (Tim Buckly, Nick Drake) can be pointed out, though as a whole, Allison manages to keep his project from ever sounding blatantly like any of those specific styles.

"You've Already Made Me Proud" opens the disc with a swell of acoustic guitars and cello, immediately bringing to mind visions of Badly Drawn Boy (though admittedly, those visions fade quickly). "Historically Speaking" carries more of a 'dreamy' vibe, though the track is most noteable for the fact that Allison performs all of the instruments and vocal parts himself. "Glass Street" is an extremely nice, lazy pop song that wouldn't sound out of place on a Gentleman Caller or American Analog Set disc.

Through the first six tracks, the general vibe of the disc is really laid back, with every style (dreamy, poppy, country) all getting the same rolling, droning musical treatment. With "The Longest Ride," that begins to change, as this two-minutes garage-pop nugget kicks off a much more eventful second half to this disc. "Arboretum" is a catchy, jangly little country number with some hot slide guitar licks tacked onto the end, while "Ambulatory" rolls out more of that good old dreamy indie-pop sound. "To Taylor, With Twill" manages to mesh the dream-pop sensibility with the alt-country twang and a straight-up rock star guitar solo to land itself as the best listen on the disc, while "Watersign" wraps up the disc with an acoustic country-ish number that turns pop at the choruses.
The one thing the record does have going against it is that the first half of Braced in the Beams gets a bit tedious. Beginning with "The Longest Ride," the disc ably mixes country- - D.O.A.


Charles Allison - Braced in the Beams (CD, Goodgog, Pop)


This is an interesting release both in terms of the music and the marketing approach. Crossville, Tennessee's Charles Allison began recording under the name Kil Howlie Day but dropped the name for the release of this album. Mr. Allison is an amazing talent. This obscure recording artist is making music that easily meets and/or exceeds the standards set by the major companies. Actually and in fact, the tunes on this album are better than 99% of what is released by the biggies. Allison's approach is subtle and the music is extraordinarily unpretentious and understated.

Although these tunes may best be categorized as pop, they are by no means shallow fodder. Instead, Braced in the Beams is filled with thoughtful and intelligent pieces that get better with repeated listenings. Although his music has many strange familiar qualities...we cannot come up with a single comparison that seems to stick. The lyrics are smart...the vocals sincere and genuine...and the arrangements are instinctively appropriate. This album won't blow you over instantly...but instead will grow on your subsconcious over time. Superb tunes like "You've Already Made Me Proud," "Historically Speaking," "Next Summer," and "To Taylor With Twill" are excellent pieces that will stand the test of time. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++) - LMNOP


Charles Allison & Black Eyed Dog — Some Queer Raincoat
Mixed by Mitch Easter at The Fidelitorium in Kernersville, NC
Mastered by Alex McCollough at Yes Master in Nashville, TN
 
 
Charles Allison & Black Eyed Dog’s EP, Some Queer Raincoat, rides the line between alt-country and rock ‘n’ roll — and rides it well. While the opening tune, “All On An Officer’s Wage,” is an acoustic-driven country tune punctuated by flourishes of pedal steel, subsequent tracks such as “The Worst Kind Of Anodyne” blend rock and country influences, and others like “A Bad Movie at the Drive” are more straight-ahead rock. On occasion, the listener will even hear a new wave synth line or a Fender Rhodes part that may initially seem out of context, but the more one hears it, the more it sounds like it belongs — and that if it weren’t there, something would be missing.

Some Queer Raincoat demonstrates Allison’s writing chops. He’ll take a simple idea and develop it by putting another simple but effective idea after it. A good example is the aforementioned “All On An Officer’s Wage.” While it is largely based on the same progression throughout the entire song, when Allison & Co. hit the IV, V, I progression at the end of the verse, it sounds novel. The melody on this track (as with many of the melodies on the record) is good — simple, to the point, and just good. “A Bad Movie at the Drive” is another standout track, with Allison’s excellent melodic sense letting the melody and harmony work together.

Allison has an outstanding voice, but unfortunately the vocals (which are harmonized nicely) are mixed a bit too low sometimes. Allison’s low end tends to get eaten up, particularly on tracks with acoustic guitars, sometimes making the lyrics difficult to understand.

Put quite simply, fans of Whiskeytown or early Ryan Adams will like Charles Allison. His blending of rock and country is done in a way that definitely brings these artists to mind, but Allison can stand on his own as well. (Self-released)
www.charlesallison.org
-Adam Deiboldt - Southeast Performer Magazine


Decidedly indie in nature but somehow and interestingly like something languid of a timeless era. Could be because at times his voice sounds like David Gates of Bread fame. Sometimes it sounds like he’d been on a bender the night before and his voice is paying for it a bit. That’s good though! You might classify the music here as baroque-Americana with a touch of pop. Having honed his craft as a bedroom 4-tracker, and he continues to play most of the instruments here, Mr. Allison seems to have found the magic in his passion. Leaning somewhat on the strummy alt-country side, and bending somewhere where mellow Brit-pop holds sway, Braced In The Beams holds together very well. There is a mood and spirit here that feels like Minibar but not quite as lush in arrangement.

- M.O.M.


The first thing to know about Charles Allison is this: the man is patient about making music. Painstakingly so. When Allison records in his home studio, he doesn't jam aimlessly; he meditates. (Not literally, or maybe -- not too many folks know, since he works mostly in private). "I'm gonna be doing this stuff anyway," he says. So why not take time to do it right?

Truth is, Charles Allison has been home-recording for a decade, long enough to know how best to wrangle his best work -- glimmering mid-tempo pop songs that honor both past decades and future ones too -- out of an acoustic guitar.

When Charles was a 23-year-old kid living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he began making records under the moniker Kil Howlie Day. (The name refers to his birthplace of Hawaii, where white kids were called "haole" and the non-white kids didn't much like them. Incidentally, nobody really gets killed on Kill Haole Day.) Charles produced a string of self-produced albums, all of which, at various points, reflected an appreciation for '70s singer-songwriters, obscure New Zealand pop and wry turns of phrase. Calling All Stephens was Allison's first effort. One Finger Ad Lib came next, followed by Songs Like Circadian Rhythms and the Chenille Bumpies EP.

Taken together, these early albums are a fascinating character study. You can almost hear the ideas coming to Charles as he sings, layering vocals, amping up the synths and earning comparisons to Billy Bragg, Echo & the Bunnymen and Talking Heads. Experimentation -- mostly, spending hours building on single riffs -- characterized his early material. Charles toured the Southeast and Midwest in 2000, finding warm receptions at legendary Chicago venue Schuba's and now-defunct New York rock club Brownies. Kil Howlie Day gigged with Bright Eyes and Mary Lou Lord, and, in time, the bedroom project had become a band. After discussions with record labels, however, Charles decided to continue recording on an independent label, Good Gog. "I learned a long time ago that the industry is not what it seems," he says diplomatically. "Right now, I have a good thing going. I have everything on my own terms."

Charles killed Kil Howlie Day in 2001. "I was going different direction," he says, before making a stark contrast between earlier work and what he's doing now: "These are songs, not goofy things." Charles' work of the past five years has become more self-assured, mature, and less like ideas -- albeit good ones -- that somehow, simply, had morphed into tunes. He began writing material that would stand on its own, without ornamentation. The acoustic guitar began coming out of its case more often.

Braced in the Beams, released in 2002, was the first proper Charles Allison record. On this effort, particularly, the songs' emotional ebbs and flows became clear. Pedal steel guitars and marimbas complemented Charles' newfound, more self-assured voice. Stories of tangled relationships came into focus, but with a casualness that bore a strong resemblance to Jackson Browne's Late for the Sky. The album was a personal breakthrough for him.

Charles continues to indulge his independent streak on the recently-released EP, Some Queer Raincoat (a joint effort with Asheville, NC's Black-Eyed Dog that was produced by Mitch Easter), as well as his upcoming, as-yet untitled full-length effort. The same elements that made Charles such a memorable voice years ago are still there; the emphasis on stories about friendships, God, isolation, rednecks and the occasional oddball observation are fully intact. Most importantly, Charles' sense of urgency -- of making something that sounds bigger than his (or anyone else's) bedroom studio -- is still there, and stronger than ever. "With this record in particular," he says, "I want to do something that's not marginal. For me it's time to do some of my best work."

- Unpublished


Discography

Kil Howlie Day- Calling All Stephens: Winter 1998
Kil Howlie Day- One finger Ad-lib: Fall 1999
Kil Howlie Day- Songs like Circadian Rhythms: Spring 2001
Kil Howlie Day- Chenille Bumpies: Summer 2001
Charles Allison- Braced in the Beams: 2002
Charles Allison and Black Eyed Dog: 2007
Charles Allison-New record currently in production. Scheduled for 2008 release.

Photos

Bio

I. An Introduction to the Charles Allison catalogue.

Charles Allison really started making records in 1997 on a cassette 4-track machine in a big old house he shared with his siblings. For those songs and for the many songs he would write and record in the years following, he adopted the Kil Howlie Day moniker (a reference to an unofficial schoolboy holiday in Hawai’i, one of several places the Allison family was stationed during Charles’ youth). From the very start, the Kil Howlie Day songs were infectious. Something about the timbre of Charles’ voice made them both sad and fun at once. His guitar-playing style was diverse, swaying from the type of cranky snap I associate with early Liz Phair and Billy Bragg to the rounded pop of more-recent XTC. His lyrics were clever, his hooks were memorable, and his perfectionism was everywhere obvious.

Quickly, Charles began filling out the Kil Howlie Day sound by training himself on various instruments, experimenting with various electronic devices, and amassing an arsenal of home-recording knowledge and equipment. Charles also invited some other really talented guys to play on some material; most notably, Matt Turnure became the Kil Howlie Day drummer in 1999, touring with Charles and bassist Jeremy Carriger for “One Finger Ad-Lib” in the summer of 2000. The touring incarnation of Kil Howlie Day recorded “Songs Like Circadian Rhythms” that same year. This third Kil Howlie Day record was the densest, prettiest work Charles had yet produced. It is marked by a desert loneliness reminiscent of bands like Grandaddy and Giant Sand. The record has an insouciant country and western feel that would become even more pronounced on 2003’s “Braced in the Beams.”

Charles decided to drop the Kil Howlie Day name from that work in recognition of what had been a glacial shift in style and group lineup. In a sense, little had changed in the fundamental equation: Charles was still writing great songs and recording them himself. At the same time, he had covered a lot of territory as a musician and as a person since he first started bouncing tracks on his Tascam machine. Charles Allison’s music had mutated into something like what Gram Parsons called “Cosmic American Music.” It is sweet, true, and struggling always to grow into itself. It only makes sense that Charles should want to put his own name on those songs, like a guarantee. There is a confidence on “Braced in the Beams” based on the happy meeting of fairly disparate influences. Raised two hours south of Nashville on new wave and punk rock, Charles Allison found his way, naturally enough, back to Tennessee sounds: pedal-steel swells and acoustic guitar picking.

Charles got warm on “Braced in the Beams,” and he started admitting how much he loved seventies singer-songwriters (especially David Gates). It came as little surprise, therefore, when that record drew numerous comparisons to Gates’s work with Bread. In the last few years, Charles has continued to pursue these smooth pleasures. Collaboration with Asheville, North Carolina’s Black-Eyed Dog resulted in “Some Queer Raincoat” (recorded by Charles and Brian Landrum and mixed by Mitch Easter and officially released in 2007). The material here swings between folk-pop idioms reminiscent of the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” period and a slightly edgier 70s Californiana (Jackson Browne, perhaps, but Jackson Browne with the Descendents on his iPod).

The new record, which so-far is untitled, seems to be letting some of the old Kil Howlie Day impulses see the light again. Synthesizers are back, for one thing, and the song-writing chops Charles has continued developing over the years sit comfortably together with the old blips, bells, and pops. Eclectic synthesis has, in fact, always been one of Charles’s special talents and a mainstay of his creative palette. In songs like “Esteem Problem,” “Garden Party,” and “Girls from State,” Charles begins turning his own catalogue back in on itself. This is not seventies-ism or post-punk revival. It’s pop music made out of life as it is really happening. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s what you’ve been waiting to hear.

Dr. Aaron McCollough
Friend & Biographer