Music

Finger-pickin’ Good

A local folk singer favors the singles scene

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Providence folk singer Steve Allain’s previous full length album, thirteen, contains some pretty intimate lyrics on the opener “My Father’s Only Son”: “Our hands were shadowed by the dirt/we pulled the life out of the ground just to re-seed her.”

Like most musicians and fans, Steve’s love of music started early on at home. He grew up in a house filled with the sounds of George Jones, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. When his grandmother died he inherited her collection of vintage doo-wop and Chubby Checker. Later, when his family moved to New Brunswick, Canada his cousins, aunts and uncles would play and sing at family gatherings and young Steve would record hours of it and listen back later on. “This is when the seeds got planted in my head,” he says.

Steve tends to shy away from straight storytelling in his songs, leaning more towards stream of consciousness or “aural collage” as he calls it. On “Good For You,” he paints a striking vignette: “Behind the wheel of an old junked car/Filter what you say to me/I’ve got a secret.” And later on: “The sun bears down like sinner’s guilt.” Lately Steve has been trying more storytelling songs with fictional characters and events. “It’s always interesting to challenge yourself as a songwriter and try new approaches so you don’t fall into repetitive predictability.”

A highlight of Steve Allain’s impressive country folk is his incredible guitar playing. Great finger-picked runs and gently plucked chords and patterns underscore a stark simplicity in many of his songs; he makes it look easy but it most assuredly is not. Take the album closer, the gorgeous “Nocturne no.1,” a beautiful example of cascading classical guitar work like none other I’ve heard from a local musician.

This year Steve has embarked on a new project. Not content with simply writing and recording the traditional full length album, with its long gestation and recording period and even longer gaps between releases, Steve has decided to record and release several singles throughout 2013 in an homage to the old singles he grew up with, complete with “A” and “B” sides. The first of these is “Evergreen” backed with “The Sea.” “Evergreen” is a bittersweet love letter to New England winters and the heartbreak they inevitably precipitate. Its most telling line is, “You and me well we could live together side by side/together for awhile.” It’s a nice little take on the impermanence of love, which sometimes changes with the seasons. “The Sea” takes things in an even darker direction with curious passages like, “We are your lepers who write all the great songs...” and “Don’t bury all of me, leave some for the sea.” The two songs form an absolutely beautiful couplet; I hope to hear more of these singles as they’re released throughout the year.

Steve Allain can be found at the Saturday Songwriter Sessions, which he hosts biweekly at The Brooklyn Coffee and Tea House. His previous albums, the current single and future singles can be purchased at steveallain.com.