Max Allen - Earthwalker

Max Allen's Earthwalker is one of the most well-intentioned albums I've heard this year. Fans of mope and malaise, stay away, for Max Allen and his band travel along much different paths than you. Earthwalker is full of hopeful melodies and rhythms that beg to be driven to. A stunningly full-sounding trio, all of the band members are, for all intents and purposes, lifelong musicians. Their well-honed skills allow them to push the musical envelope within a finely-constructed framework of meaningful songs, constantly working your brain over with instrumental acrobatics but never stomping all over the song itself.
The opening mind-pleaser "Underwear Umbrella" jogs along with jazzy instrumental tightness and lyrical exuberance reminiscent of moe.'s happier moments. The title track exemplifies the style mentioned in the first paragraph, as there's plenty of memorable lyrics to contemplate while the band explores lots of different territory. About halfway through your first listen, it starts to dawn on you that these guys can really play the daylights out of their instruments. Allen impresses with his nimble guitar and mellow voice, which, when combined, one imagines to be quite a treat in the live setting. Bassist Shawn Bryant glides all over the bottom register with ease, playing with the easy breezy manner of a musician/guitar shop owner's son. Shaan France's metronomic drumming stems from plenty of rigorous performing since he was very young, and his percussive accents are made more prevalent by his forceful style.

The sound draws on a wide range of influences. "Left Hand Smoke" pushes a classic blues feel into overdrive. "Low Profile" incorporates acoustic instruments and brushy drums to conjure a jazzy feel. "Too Much" brings to mind the early days of the roots rock and jam movement. There are also hints of R&B, prog-rock, country, and more throughout Earthwalker, a superior studio recording that, through sheer diversity and lyrical atmospherics, lives up to its name.

--Bryan Rodgers