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It seems scant weeks ago that Newtown and a growing global fan base were rallying around the father-son musical duo of Jim and Sasha Allen as they battled their way to the final rounds of the NBC talent competition show The Voice.
And while Jim and Sasha were not ultimately successful last season, relationships that were built there, along with some great appreciation for their spectacular harmonies and the way they make each song they perform their very own, led to the eventual development of a new four-song EP slated for release this week.
Looking back, Jim and Sasha cannot deny the program served as an amazingly successful platform to elevate their collective and individual musical careers.
Besides numerous appearances on The Voice broadcasts and millions of connected hits of their performances on YouTube, the Allens teamed with Voice judge Ariana Grande for a duet of “FourFiveSeconds” by Kanye West, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney. They also broke ground as the first father-son team on The Voice, and Sasha became the first openly transgender singer on The Voice to advance so far in the show.
In the wake of their success, they appeared on Ellen — and recorded what would become 16 Borders, on the Imperial label. That new EP — from what Jim describes as an authentic “American singer-songwriter duo” — will be available for downloading, streaming, or owning on CD beginning Friday, September 23.
With the continued support of Grammy Award-winning megastar Ariana Grande, and expert production support from Steve Addabbo and David Wolton of Republic Records, 16 Borders, as Jim told The Newtown Bee, transforms four of the numbers he wrote, and which Sasha spent so much time listening to as they developed, into entirely refreshed and recast songs that may be rooted in traditional Americana, but sound as fresh as any material one might hear on pop radio and streaming services today.
Jim said that until the opportunity presented after the hoopla surrounding The Voice calmed a bit, “We hadn’t really set our minds on recording an album together ever before, but 16 Borders is an outgrowth from our experience on The Voice, and seemed like a great way to celebrate that journey we shared,” he said. “The process of putting the record together was really fun. And Sasha chose these four songs I wrote because he grew up with them, and that’s very meaningful for me as both a writer and his father.”
Music Around The House
Music played an important role in the Allen family. Jim worked as a music teacher, and in between, he penned countless songs and performed at folk and bluegrass festivals, jamming onstage with the likes of Bela Fleck, Arlo Guthrie, Jonathan Edwards, and many more.
Through it all, Sasha absorbed music by osmosis, watching Dad and soon, he found himself on stage as well. At just 13 years old, he recorded and shared his early compositions with a rapt audience of classmates, building his confidence.
“We’re an American singer-songwriter duo, so there’s a lot of tradition,” observes Jim. “At the same time, we’re father and son. The relationship makes what we’re doing different — it’s important to the sound. For me, it’s such a gift to collaborate with Sasha.”
“Playing with my dad is really fun, because anywhere I fall short, he makes up for it or fixes it,” Sasha observed. “He comes up with harmonies and approaches that I wouldn’t. I do the same. It’s an incredible partnership.”
According to details shared with The Newtown Bee by Jim and Sasha, two of the songs on the EP hold a special place in their hearts.
Jim actually composed the first single and title track “16 Borders” many years before Sasha’s birth. Upheld by gently strummed acoustic guitar, their voices entwine on a breezy and bright refrain, “The life we left behind is gone. You’re still sleeping. I’m still writing this song.”
“It’s a traveling coming-of-age tune,” notes Jim.
“It was an impressionistic mix of images. I picture young people driving across the country, but there’s a sense of time passing,” he added. “There’s the uncertainty of what lies ahead as well as the joy of knowing you’re heading somewhere new. In the process, you’re writing about where you’re going.”
Then there’s “Lindytown.” The storytelling takes center stage in this poignant depiction of a West Virginia coal mining town ruined by mountaintop removal.
“I’d read about this place in Appalachia called Lindytown,” Jim recalled. “The lyrics are all true: The people, their community, the destruction … it’s a story that needs to be told, long after the mountaintops are gone.”
In the end, Jim and Sasha Allen sought to embody a father-son story never heard before.
“When you listen to the EP, I hope you feel like you’ve been transported elsewhere,” Jim said. “Maybe it will move you the way our favorite music has moved us.”
“I’d love for audiences to develop an appreciation for folk and Americana,” Sasha concludes. “There are so many powerful stories, and it was really fun to see these old songs given new life on this project.”
While plans are in the works that will hopefully result in one or more live Jim & Sasha gigs in the coming months, fans and newcomers are invited to check out Jim performing with some friends — bassist Niles Spaulding and fiddler Howard Carlough of Flagpole Radio Cafe — on October 8 at Bethel’s Workspace education center at 5 pm.
Jim will also be opening for singer-songwriter Jonathan Edwards at Fairfield Theatre Company October 28, and Infinity Hall in Norfolk the following night; details at jim-allen.com. 16 Borders will be available on all streaming platforms as of September 23. Visit Allen’s website for links and details.
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