I love Chris Franklin's Raised on Rock radio show. He has a much narrower focus than I do but he goes deep from his starting point of melodic rock and it's a rare two hour show that doesn't let me in on a secret knockout band that I've never heard of before. Last week, that was Allison, a Swiss six piece who released a couple of albums during the first half of the nineties and then apparently went on hiatus. Their peak seems to have been opening for Thunder, Van Halen and Bon Jovi in Basel in 1995 in front of 55,000 fans.
That suggests that the Swiss rock scene was vibrant back then, so I wonder why it took this long for a band of this obvious quality to either get back together or to get back into the studio. Whatever the reasons, I'm just happy that things fell back into place and three founder members—Janet La Rose on vocals, Jonny Stutz on guitar and Pierce Baltino on bass—put a new line-up together and got a third album in the can. It may be titled They Never Come Back but I'm thankful that they did indeed do just that. Now, let's not go away again.
Chris played the opening track, The River, and I can't fault him on that choice at all, because it's a real stormer and it made me fall immediately in love with Janet La Rose's voice. She sings in English, with a notable accent and an even more notable snarl. Everything that comes out of her mouth is melodic, hard rock in the traditional style bedded in the blues, but even the softest line is delivered with overt power and attitude and we just know that, however emphatic she gets, she has another gear available should she need it. Or two.
What's odd is the way in which she imposes that emphasis. Usually singers just get louder and so steal more focus from the rest of the band. La Rose does some of that, but I don't buy into her coming close to the peak of her power here. Instead, she controls her emphasis through the level of snarl that she's allowing into her mix. Whatever "it" is, she has it in spades. I haven't heard a female rock voice that's got this much under my skin since Lauren Smoken and that was thirty plus years ago. She never opens up fully here and I wish she would, because, my goodness, I bet she can roar! Someone have Allison do a cover of Rock a Bye Baby.
She's always the focal point for me, because it's difficult to listen to anything else when her voice is in motion. However, the band isn't just there behind her, as much as it might seem like that for a while. I think they do see their job as fundamentally one of supporting her voice, and they do that incredibly well, weaving together two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums into a texture to sit behind her, but I'd have liked them to take some moments in the spotlight themselves. There are guitar solos, albeit not particularly long ones and not particularly flash ones. Even when soloing, these folks never lose track of that texture and they don't step outside that, with one notable exception.
That's Hang Tough, because it features a delightful opening that feels like a spotlight in a packed but silent room turned on one of the guitarists, so either Jonny Stutz or Robi Würgler, before it grows to the song proper. It's a more laid back song that screams for a video to be made for it, a western with a lot of slow motion. However, Edge of Golden Days features a loose guitar that's so visual that I bet it's low slung and a prominent mouth harp that takes the song in a particularly jaunty direction.
If that makes Allison sound like they're from Switzerland by way of the American deepsouth, that's an entirely fair assumption. This isn't blues rock but there's always at least a foot in the blues here, with a whole leg at points. The bluesiest the band get is on Blackbird, with a neat slide guitar early on. The sound isn't just blues though, as Can You Hear Me ably highlights. That starts out so much like a Deep Purple song that I was surprised that Dani Feusi's keyboards didn't turn more into Hammond organ.
This is a real steam train of a band. Every song is confined by the particular rails its on but nothing is going to stop it once it's in motion except Janet La Rose shouting, "Stop!" And, when she does that, a little way into Crank It Up, the whole band stops on a frickin' dime. They may not do anything flash in these songs, but Allison are as tight as they come and this album just keeps on growing in my mind. I can't call out a lot of specific highlights, beyond The River, because everything here is quality, but it's the highlight of December for me thus far.
And now, I have two earlier Allison albums to track down. I see that La Rose continued on in a band by the name of Angelheart, with another album there to find too. Thanks, Chris!