Everywhere At Once

Paul Allen And The Underthinkers

Legacy, 2013


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


First impressions can be wrong.

My first impression upon receving this CD was one of disdain. A rich white businessman, albeit a philanthropist of the highest order, releasing a blues album? Calling seven guest stars spread around the 13 tracks? The whole thing smacked of someone who felt like playing bluesman in his spare time, and it was fairly insulting.

However, a few critical facts changed this impression. First, Allen is a Seattle man through and through; he helped co-found Microsoft and continually gives back to area charities. As he and Jimi Hendrix share the same hometown, Allen became inspired to play guitar in his youth after seeing a Jimi concert, beginning a lifelong love affair. Second, Allen co-wrote all of these songs (one was written solo). Not one cover in the bunch. Third, he is a pretty darn good guitar player.

The lineup of guest stars is impressive, if curious; perhaps Allen didn't believe in the strength of his material and thought big names like Joe Walsh, Chrissie Hynde and Heart's Wilson sisters would help sell it. More likely, though, Allen just wanted to jam with them, the same way he has jammed with many other musicians over the last couple of decades.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The music is blues-based with occasional forays into country and gospel, and little of it breaks new ground or says something new, which admittedly is tough to do in the blues rock genre these days. The strongest songs are the ones without guest stars, actually, such as "Pictures Of A Dream," which has hints of Pearl Jam in its laid back yet arresting verses, and the smoky, string-accented "Divine," featuring a wonderful performance by studio vocalist Amy Keys (women may recognize the song from Magic Mike, assuming they took any time to listen to the music while Channing Tatum was taking off his shirt).

"Cherries Fall" has a strong Hendrix-meets-Allman Brothers vibe and a great guitar spot from Doyle Bramhall, who also produced 12 of the 14 songs here. Derek Trucks, an actual Allman Brother, appears on the funky "Inside Out" and the less exciting "Healing Hands." Chrissie Hynde's country-fied assistance on the dull "Rodeo" doesn't save the song, while the Wilson sisters' "Straw Into Gold" tries to go somewhere but doesn't quite make it. "Six Strings From Hell" is better, a hard rock number that goes a bit over the top and succeeds because Joe Walsh is driving. The album falls apart near the end with a mundane run of songs, closing with the simple, heartfelt "Another Sunset."

There isn't really a cohesive link to the songs, which is to be expected with so many cooks in the kitchen, but it is evident that care has been put into the songwriting and production, keeping this from being an all-star jam session. That element is crucial to enjoying this record, elevating it from just another blues-rock record treading the same themes.

Yes, he may be a software whiz and a billionaire, but Allen loves this music and cherishes the chance to play. Proceeds from this album will go toward the Hendrix-centric EMP Musuem, which Allen founded in 2000 as yet another example of his admirable longtime commitment to charitiable giving.

First impressions. Don't put much faith in them.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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