In the Jukebox: The Travis Allison Band 

The veteran songwriter, pianist, and guitarist delivers his best yet

Travis Allison Band
Migrant Heart

Singer/guitarist/pianist Travis Allison has talent, soul, and an ear for appropriate sidemen. The Greenville native started playing professionally in Richmond in the mid '90s before relocating to Charleston with an early version of the Travis Allison Band, with whom he released four studio albums.

Recorded at Awendaw Green with in-demand Charleston studio man engineer Jeff Leonard co-producing, Migrant Heart aims for an organic, spacious audio quality. There's nothing too slick or polished about the sound or the mix. In particular, the sound of drums and bass have a genuine room sound (dry, direct, and punchy), which allows for plenty of space for Allison's piano work and vocals.

Allison usually works from a hard-grooving rock foundation of blues, Motown, Americana, and reggae. Those styles make it into the music on Migrant Heart, too. His low-pitch singing on the grand, acoustic guitar-driven opener "Falling Stars and Me" sounds a little more rich (and noticeably less reserved) than on previous recordings.

With tinkering piano, accented saxophone, and a pure-pop bridge with a winding chord progression, the lead-off tune sets a sophisticated and romantic tone. "Waiting" could easily fit on an early Van Morrison collection. The verses on the medium-tempo love song "Spring Rain" bounce with a mellow reggae rhythm. The lovey-dovey vibes continue on the funky and emotionally powerful piano anthems "Contagious" and "Broken Hearts" — two of Allison's best beltin'-it-out performances.

On the breezy piano anthem "9.12," Allison's lyrical chorus, "You gotta believe in each other/you gotta believe in today/we gotta believe in tomorrow/there is a better day" demonstrates a bittersweet optimism.

It sounds like a happy toddler adding a few "spoken word" bits on the album's intro (track one, "Jackson's Count") and the delicate outro.

On most of the 12 songs here, drummer John Picard, guitarist Marty Parker, and bassist/keyboardist Whitt Algar provide strong and expressive backing. Picard and Algar have spent years collaborating with each other at various gigs, and Parker's versatile technique fits right in with them. Sax player Wilton Elder lends more than a few additional flourishes, too.

All four of these musicians have performed as Allison's live backing band over the last year or so — from the Wild Wing Cafe venues and beach clubs to the private receptions and parties — and the good chemistry they enjoy on stage shines through on much of Migrant Heart.

While this album veers away from a shiny, polished style, the instrumentation and instrumental technique blends so nicely with Allison's heartfelt songwriting that it creates its own handsome quality. (

The Travis Allison Band plays at Buddy Roe's Shrimp Shack on Thurs. Oct. 1.


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