“The bar is set high. Thing is, I love a challenge as it pushes me to be the best I can be.”—Andy Allo (in an interview with Examiner.com)
It doesn’t take long for someone to realize that Andy Allo is different. From her name (admit it — it’s got a cool ring to it), to her envious curly mane, it’s her seemingly calm demeanor that captures you at first, not to mention her stunning good looks, which you might have glimpsed at thanks to a few modeling gigs and a stint on BET’s The Game. But once the first powerful notes of Superconductor conduct themselves through your earbuds, you immediately realize that her musical prowess is meant to be heard by many.
Statement of agreed facts: 22 years old. Singer, songwriter, guitarist. Musical influences: Manu Dibango, Bettie Davis, Bob Marley, Sly and the Family Stone and Janelle Monae, among many others. Originally from Cameroon (Western Africa), Allo moved with her family to Sacramento, California to live after dabbling with American culture during summer visits. Creates a genre of her own making – alter.hip.soul, releases Unfresh — a labour of love that sees her exhaust all resources in order to finish it… only to have it grace the ear of one Prince Rogers Nelson (yes, that Prince) and allows for her entry into Prince’s New Power Generation musical conglomerate in 2011, and have her working with the likes of Maceo Parker and Prince himself, co-writing 3 songs for the Superconductor with the prolific musician.
How does one climb to such heightened expectations in such a short amount of time? When you consider that she has worked her way up to her current spark of musical exposure for quite some time, it’s clear that she has consistently forged her own path on her musical journey. Superconductor is our invitation to join her as that journey continues.
What immediately caught my ear while listening to Superconductor was the single “People Pleaser” — the immediate presence of a funky horn section sets up the otherwise simple chord progression as an exciting background for Allo’s pronounced, yet contrasting voice, declaring that taking other people’s opinions into serious consideration in terms of her musical progress is no longer a requirement. The legendary Maceo Parker and the always dynamic Trombone Shorty make appearances, making the song their own, but not stealing the show too much from Allo as they clearly exhibit influences of Tower of Power, James Brown and other funk figures of the past. It didn’t take long for this writer —a brass player myself — to become fast friends with this single, and hopefully it won’t take much for you to do the same. (Sidebar: If you like this single, also peep “Yellow Gold”, another horn-laced treat for the ears.)
Though it’s quite easy for Allo’s voice to blend into an intricate tapestry of instrumentation (as is usually the case in Prince-influenced music), it is when her voice is stripped bare that we get the true essence of Allo’s musical being — just her voice and her guitar allow us to at once scrutinize her true talent, while also taking a moment to share the thoughts that she’s decided to share with us. In particular, “The Story of You and I” gives us a snapshot of a conversation between lovers — perhaps one that’s personal enough to make us think that maybe we shouldn’t be intruding on such an intimate moment. The simple guitar drives the narrative of the connection between two people as if their story is a part of an ancient text; that is, something that was either meant to be, or was a narrative of a past life. The visual imagery of the song (for instance, “you enter me as the sun enters the sea”) makes up for the deceptively simple composition of just a girl, barely-there background vocals and a guitar. (Sidebar: also peep “The Calm”, co–written by Prince to get a sense of Allo’s take on a ballad with more layers of instrumentation.)
Superconductor ends on a funky yet sophisticated note with “When Stars Collide”, driven by a funky baseline that forces you to bob your head, whether you realize it or not. It doesn’t take long to realize on closer inspection of the lyrics that this is closely connected to the opening notes of the state of being a superconductor of energy among others (a play on scientific terms). “Stars” is an epilogue of sorts, focusing on the explosion of energy (love, music, you choose) that happens between people, as galaxies are created. It’s a testament to her ongoing desire to create a musical revolution, perhaps much like her princely mentor. All deep thoughts and scientific puns aside, the resurgence of the horn section, that baseline and Allo’s ever-present voice make this a feel-good final statement at the end of a prolific record.
Superconductor is a funk-laced musical experiment that yields two types of results when it comes to our musical perception of Andy Allo: a high-energy, fast-paced and upbeat message often surrounded by piercing horn shots, and then a bare-bones, stripped down confession that features a simple yet complex voice and guitar pairing, with lyrics outlining (troubled or lost) love stories. Though Prince’s influence is loud and clear here, it’s in the quiet moments in which Allo showcases her own voice and her own sound, which leaves us anticipating more as 2013 opens up to more opportunities to listen to what she has to offer — and with continued exploration into just how much higher she can set her own standards.
Purchase: Andy Allo – Superconductor (iTunes)