A little explanation regarding this review- I had initially meant to cover Allison Strong’s new single “One and Only,” but after an amazing conversation with the artist herself, and a few dozen plays of her single, I just needed to hear more of her beautiful, captivating music. Her truthful, relatable lyrics shine with Broadway strength vocals as she is accompanied by a symphonic variety of instruments and styles. Varying between catchy, carefree songs to emotional ballads to Latin inspired, romantic melodies, Hacia el Sol is undoubtedly one of the strongest, most unique albums I have listened to this year. To give an album before you read more, you can listen to the first of the many of her songs I fell in love with, that is, her single “One and Only,” here.
Strong, a native of Union City, New Jersey, is a first generation child of a Colombian family. As such, she grew up with a diversity of influences, shaping her ability to pleasurably blend Latin sounds with American pop, folk and country. Explaining that she started with a more country style, and thus a lot of guitar-driven songs, she found herself shifting more towards piano accompaniments. She additionally began incorporating more Latin pop and Spanish, finding her heritage too important to exclude from her music. She reminds though, that while her musical sound varies throughout the album, each song is dictated by an experience; her experiences have always shaped the sound and direction of her songs.
When asked of a word to describe herself, Allison gave four: warm, honest, passionate and optimistic. And after a conversation with her, you would be hard-pressed to boil her down to anything less. Her excitement and passion radiates from her, slipping under your skin, much like her easily relatable music. Influenced by Alison Kraus, Ingrid Michaelson, Taylor Swift, and early-in-her-career Shakira, Allison Strong will undoubtedly appeal to fans of strong, female artists. Allison further explains why these women are her influences with the following theory: people love folk music because it is so honest and detail-driven, making it difficult not to relate. As such, she strives to be as genuine with her music, and I can conclude that she has succeeded.
The lead-off song “Rewind,” the title track from Allison’s EP, croons over making amends with a lover. In her revealing chorus “Can I apologize for what I have realized?”, Strong accurately encapsulates the guilt and indecision we may face near the end of a failing relationship. A truthful, memorable track, Strong immediately proves that sincerity and emotion.
Her first single, “One and Only,” is another beautiful, romantically-inspired song in which Strong laments the universal inability to easily or precisely demonstrate love the first time. Taken directly from the all-too-familiar high-school experience in which your crush does not notice you, Strong turns her experience into a question of “what if [they did]?” She reveals that while she now knows the relationship was not to be, she, like most, had at one time believed it was. She hopes that we can grow from these experiences and understand that we almost always get love wrong on our first try. With that message, she has prepared a catchy melody which speaks strongly of her vocal, and lyrical capabilities.
The title track “Hacia el Sol” follows as the first song in Spanish on the album with a bilingual version offered as a bonus track. With an unusual, enchanting incorporation of violins, this song is an ambitious pop ballad about realizing your self and your dreams. Backed by a soft snare, and a recurrent piano melody, this song is truly anthemic.
“Pueblito Viejo,” another track in Spanish, succeeds. A rendition of the famous Colombian song originally by Jose A. Morales, this song is a love letter to pueblo life. Frequently sung around the house by her grandparents, this captivating, nostalgic song showcases Allison’s Colombian roots, as well the depth and range of her voice.
Varying the album’s direction, Allison moves onto a guitar driven song with a fun, country feel to it. Titled “Love Lie Down,” this romantic song is about falling into love and trying to live in that moment with someone. The strong vocals, memorable lyrics, and lilting choruses with backing vocals are reminiscent of the Dixie Chicks. In combination with the growing popularity of country music, this song has all the power to become a radio hit.
Taking a breather, Allison slows down with a personal, piano-based ballad named “Jonathan.” Inspired by the estranged relationship with her half-brother — the song’s namesake — Allison heartbreakingly croons in this song for forgiveness; she now realizes her anger was misguided, clouded by her estranged relationship with their father. This is an extremely heartfelt track — both in performance and lyric — and is an accurate testament to the trials of family relationships.
Moving back into sunnier territory, Strong’s next track, “Days Like This,” envisions the enjoyment of a chill, romantic day; she accurately envisions one of those days in which you easily waste a day with your lover. Sweet and soft like a country song, “Days Like This” is one of those blissful, carefree tunes which has the power to turn your day calmer and brighter.
“Poco A Poco” follows as the third and final Spanish track on this album. A warm, engaging song, this track was inspired by Strong’s grandmother, who despite her death four years previous, continues to spiritually encourage Allison everyday. Strong says that in their last conversation, her grandmother told her to keep fighting for what she wants, and that little by little, “Poco A Poco,” things would come her way. With a symphonic-like diversity of instruments in the background- which Strong admits is the most instruments that she’s ever had on a track- and strong vocals, this song is fun and inspiring.
Taking cues from pop, and blues, Allison Strong follows with “All I Know.” With balladic lyrics, a catchy piano melody, and an accompanying guitar reminiscent of John Mayer (during his Continuum era), Strong delivers a romantic song about making a long distance relationship work. “All I Know” has all the catchiness and zeal of a single that will capture most listeners.
To follow, Strong presents another romantic, piano-driven ballad. In “Your Heart,” a song about opening up to love, Strong tries to coax and reassure her lover that, “Your heart is my home, why don’t you leave me the key?” Sounding as if inspired by her musical theater background, “Your Heart” quickly envelops you with its sweet eagerness, and is difficult not to sing along to.
Opening herself up one more time in a haunting final delivery on this album, “Piece of Home” is a soft, emotional track, with strong, ethereal vocals. In this pleading song, Allison delivers unforgettable lyrics that can relate to anyone who has felt left behind, either by a relative, a friend or a lover: “Don’t go / I’m a traveler here, don’t leave me on the road / No, Don’t go / You’re the piece of home I would like to call my own.” As Allison pleads for that someone to stay, you can be sure to know that she has already slipped into your heart.
In my conversation with Allison, I asked if she had any final remarks that she would like to add, and she elegantly, and prematurely (for neither she nor I had known yet that I was going to cover the album) provided an answer for which to best conclude her album: “I’m 23 years old, and this album is so personal to me. It’s hard and beautiful to be this age. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned. I hope listeners relate to that growth, and can reflect and enjoy, and just grow with me.”
Upon reflection of this journey so far, both in creating this album and growing as a musician, Allison reflects upon an opening performance for one of her high-school favorites as the defining moment in coming full circle. Surprisingly, she reveals, this was not an opportunity she sought out, but rather a proactive email asking if she would perform for Teddy Geiger. Following that vein of revealed opportunities, Allison concludes that her hopes for the future are to follow where her opportunities lie; to go where her art takes her. Ideally though, she would love to go to Florida to grow from the Latin and pop influences there.
If you love Allison Strong and would like to hear more from her, her performance at the Gibson Showroom earlier this year will be available for streaming online.
Katie Lebert currently works as an Associate Editor for the Gadfly, feeling all too mature with herself now that she has the chance to dress up on a daily basis. Going into her fourth and final year at the University of Virginia as an Anthropology major, Katie hopes to work for a non-profit organization and continue writing after she graduates. In her spare time, Katie voraciously reads the books she finds at her local Goodwill.