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Holly Renee Allen’s Appalachian Piecemeal


By Brian Rock

With a voice as clear as a mountain steam and as strong as the mountain it flows over, Holly Renee Allen sings a love letter to her beloved Blue Ridge in her fifth studio release, Appalachian Piecemeal.

Singing about the people and places of her mountain home, Allen delivers an earnest eyewitness account that’s reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s early odes to her Smokey Mountain heritage. In “Big Piney,” she tells the story of a moonshiner’s daughter named Queenie. With a growly, gravelly delivery, Allen recounts how, “for a silver dollar, a man could spend some time with the ‘shiner’s daughter.” But Allen deftly shows that there may yet be dignity in life’s hardships if you can play the hand you’re dealt with patience and skill. And in the end, “she rode into town, sitting side saddle in a white wedding gown. Aw, they called her Queenie. She held her head up high. She ain’t the ‘shiner’s daughter, she’s a gentleman’s wife.”

“Barrel House” is a slow burning Blues number that finds Allen channeling her inner Bessie Smith. Disinterested in the people who plot and cheat to get ahead in life, Allen is content to live in the moment as she confesses that, “Mama just wants to barrel house all night long.”

With a voice that’s equal parts June Carter, Etta James, and Melissa Etheridge, Allen is a vocal powerhouse. As she sings about sin and salvation in Appalachia, her band brings the organic rhythms of the region to life with banjo notes that drop down like summer rain and mandolin chords that blow by like a spring breeze and fiddle strains that creak like a swinging screen door. To hear Allen sing is to hear the very spirit of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

She breathes that spirit into a tale of forbidden love and disillusionment in “Danville Train.” She delivers a classic, Country heartbreak song in “Picture,” where she wryly asserts, “God bless the other woman who’s on fire for your touch. Tonight, I’m taking back my freedom. She’s the one giving it up.” She sings an introspective, unplugged cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” But after facing the fire, Allen finds redemption in her two County Gospel songs, “Owe It To My Jesus,” and the beautifully melancholy, “All My Tears.” And on the appropriately named, “Last Song,” Allen leaves us with a moving, acapella benediction: “May your soul grow deep. May your joy run wild. May your heart know the face of mercy and smile. May your faith come to let you believe like a child. This is my prayer for you.” Like Allen’s own voice, the blessing is simple and direct, yet profoundly beautiful.

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Brian Rock

Brian Rock

Brian was raised gypsy style, moving every other year until well after college. As friendships proved to be temporary, Brian found a constant companion in music, wearing the grooves off Beatles and Dylan albums before moving on to Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yokam. Living so often in flux, he has come to value music and lyrics of lasting quality. Not moved by trends or fashion, he is drawn to timeless lyrics and soulful rhythms. Although now settled down, Brian still expresses his gypsy spirit through his writing. He has co-written songs with musician friends he’s met along the way, including several contributions to the 2012 ICMA Album of the Year, Family Album. Brian also writes children’s books and poems, including the Children’s Book Council featured title, The Deductive Detective.
Brian Rock

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