Raised at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Holly Renee Allen is the embodiment of Red Dirt and Appalachian music. Born and bred from generations of country and bluegrass musicians and raised on The Beatles, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, and Bob Dylan, Allen is currently readying the release of her fifth studio album, Appalachian Piece Meal, where she pulls from her greatest influences and the sounds of the valley that made her the woman she is today.
The first single, “Picture”, is a honky-tonk heartbreak song one can imagine having crossed the air-waves fifty years ago – a country break-up song with just the right amount of sass to keep things interesting that pays homage to the proverbial other woman and how sometimes trading pain for freedom is the greatest thing we can do for ourselves. In advance of the album’s 2019 release, Allen answers her e8 where she speaks of musical mentors, songwriting, and Appalachian Piece Meal.
Did you have a musical mentor? If so, who was it and how did they influence you?
I have so many it would be hard to name them all! It started with my Dad. He played in a country band as a fiddle player the whole time I was growing up. He could pretty much play anything and lots of styles, but Bluegrass was his first love. He taught me to play the mandolin first and then when my hands were big enough he taught me to play guitar. My hippie sisters influenced my musical tastes; they brought all the sounds of the 60’s and 70’s into our living room and I fell for Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt. My mom pretty much always let me wail into a microphone with the stereo turned way up. Music has always been a family thing for me.
With any particular song, was there an “a-ha” moment when you knew the song was completed and perfect?
“Miss Christine” from my previous Red Dirt Soul album wrote itself. It spilled it out onto a napkin in the car on the way to Tallapoosa from Atlanta and then onto the notebook without a moment’s hesitation. I think those are the whispers of angels telling us something that needs saying.
Please choose one song and tell the story behind it.
“Miss Christine” is based on a painting by Denard Stalling. It is of his grandmother walking on the hillside in Alabama. I fell in love with it when I first saw it! I asked the curator about it and she told me some history. The song just poured out. I later got to meet Denard and gave him a copy of the song. He got to play it for Miss Christine and she liked it. That was good enough for me. The song also got an honorable mention in the John Lennon songwriting contest.
Is there a story behind your album’s title?
Yes! This current project started as something to bridge the gap between my music and my Dad’s music. It was to be called Appalachian Blue. As time went by my father’s cognitive issues prevented him from playing on the project the way I had hoped for. I ended up getting this friend and that friend and friends of friends to help me finish the project. Everyone brings a unique gift to the “table” so we’ve decided to call it Appalachian Piece Meal.
Why did you choose to anchor the album with the songs you did?
The whole idea behind my upcoming album is bridging bluegrass and red dirt. I wanted to write songs that felt like my Dad’s generation and yet still reflect me with a blue note here and there and a little edge. I picked the cover tune “Barrel House” to start the album because it seemed obscure but I’ve always loved it! I wanted to cover Buddy and Julie Miller because Don’t “Cry For Me” embodies the feel I was going for. I chose Miller’s “Last Song” to bookend the project because it’s like a prayer for peace and joy and light – something I think the world could use more of. I also recorded “Ring of Fire” because it just fit and it laid down on the track like a lover. “Ring of Fire” may be my favorite track from Appalachian Piece Meal! The originals are pieces of my heart and stories of my family. “Matt’s Candy” was written when I was 17 and it is simple and sweet and the story of my paternal grandparents. The whole album will be available this coming spring.
Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?
That’s easy! People, places and things. The best ones are shot straight from the heart!
When/where do you do your best writing?
I am easily distracted. I find that I make notes and singing memos and save them until I can find some quiet space. My son and I created a nice little spot in our shed out back where there is less distraction and lots of faerie lights to keep me inspired.
What’s the best advice you have ever gotten from another musician?
1 If someone asks you to sing say YES! Always!
2 Know at least one Patsy Cline song (Walking After Midnight) and one Elvis(still deciding) song.
3 Do it because you love it with all your heart.