|Charm City Devils: John Allen|
Second Times The Charm
"It's always good to remember where you come from and celebrate it. To remember where you come from is part of where you're going." - Anthony Burgess, novelist
Charm City Devils' singer and song crafter, John Allen, acknowledges and embraces his roots, whether it is his hometown, heritage or music. The drummer-turned-frontman is Baltimore born 'n' raised and his music is straight-up, raucous rock 'n' roll, and with Sins, the band's sophomore release, his roots are clearly showing.
Speaking in an occasional Baltimore-accent that truly defines "Bawlmer," he laughingly admits, "I have Natty Boh and Old Bay (seasoning) running through my veins; I can't ever leave!" And as for the music, he continues, "Then my heart lies in blues-based rock music; that is where my comfort zone is, I guess, and that is just what comes out naturally."
The predominantly blue-collared Maryland city, affectionately known as "Charm City," clearly affected Allen as soon as he could handle two sticks, sit behind a drum kit and pound out a heavy backbeat. With a bevy of bands to his credit – all Baltimore-based or Baltimore-connected – the affable frontman stayed resolutely planted due to the community's support: "I love this area; this is my home and I never left to try and make it," he readily admits. "Whatever my project is, I try to make it a success coming out of this area. This is where I am from, and no matter what kind of bad rap Baltimore gets, I think it's a great place with a great music community. I have done anything I can to promote Baltimore and the fans, local press and radio – particularly 98 Rock - have been there for us and have always been incredibly supportive."
Charm City Devils' first single and video off Sins, "Man of Constant Sorrow," offers credence to the reasoning behind the enduring support CCD received both in Baltimore and beyond its Mid-Atlantic borders. The remake of a traditional circa 1913 Americana folk song, "Man of Constant Sorrow" by blind Kentucky fiddler Richard "Dick" Burnett (the song was originally titled "Farewell Song"), Allen – along with guitarists Vic Karrera and Nick Kay, bassist Anthony Arambula and drummer Jason Heiser – grabbed the roots by the horns, so to speak, and owned the song in their revved up remake. Having been re-popularized in 2000 in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the band reworked it into a nontraditional rock song being heard worldwide via iTunes along with its associated video on YouTube and the band's website.
The singer believes this first single keeps to his and the band's commitment to their roots as well as serving as a bit of rock 'n' roll traditionalism a la the 21st century: "Americana music is an art form; it all stems from the blues, folk and country... Rock is also an American art form so that naturally follows suit," he suggests. "That's one of the things drawing me to that kind of music: I love the mystique of blues, especially since this song ("Man of Constant Sorrow") has such murky origins, a mystery surrounds it. The guy attributed to writing the song, Dick Burnett, said, 'Yeah, well maybe I wrote the song.' He's not sure, and maybe the reason he's not sure is because he doesn't remember. Or is he just saying that because he borrowed some of it from a hymn or from an Irish folk song?
"It's funny because we have gotten blasted from a handful of Bluegrass purists – very few as opposed to the thousands who love it. I guess they don't understand that this guy put this song together borrowing from different influences and he thought of music the same way Robert Johnson did (early 20th century blues singer/songwriter) as a kind of a living, breathing thing that kind of mutates and changes and is there to grow and take pieces and build upon it."
The timeless, mournful tune speaks to anyone who has experienced sorrow, troubled times and loss, and it has been adapted numerous times in varying genres, including rap. Allen admits they worked with Grammy-winning producer Skidd Mills (Saving Abel, Egypt Central) to attempt to reflect the band's heavy blues 'n' rock roots: "We took that song and kind of really overhauled it and retooled it and musically it doesn't resemble the bluegrass version at all. We changed some lyrics here and there and omitted a whole verse at the end. I also wrote a different chorus because the original isn't what we are used to as a modern kind of chorus, so with our arrangement we made something to latch onto. I think we created something that we can be proud of and I'm excited to bring it to a whole new group of rock fans."
Two videos have also been released for the first single, both created by the band's visually- and musically-talented bassist (he additionally built CCD's website). The first video to pique interest on YouTube uses random footage from the 1920's black and white silent film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with John Barrymore (Drew Barrymore's grandfather). The song's lyrics float overtop the macabre images while the gritty rendition of the song drives the motion forward. Allen loves the concept and asserts, "The video worked with the song...it's so creepy" He adds, "The official video will try to out creep that creepy-assed video he made!" (laughs)
With the April 10 release of Sins on Fat Lady Music and an ensuing tour crisscrossing the country, the band intends to stick to its roots and do what it does best: perform high-powered, kick ass, no-holds-barred rock 'n' roll. The 11 tracks on the new release epitomize the quest to maintain the rock 'n' roll spirit and the long-forgotten concept of knowing who you are and what you do best. For this Baltimore musician, Allen muses, "At this stage of the game, I am trying to improve on all facets as a singer, songwriter and a musician.... I think I have finally learned that this is the journey: to improve yourself as a human being as much as you can and love what you do."
The record release party for Sins will be Saturday, April 21 at the Recher Theatre in Towson, MD. The digital songs for the release are available on iTunes and cdbaby beginning April 10, 2012 with a CD release at the record release party sponsored by 98 Rock.