Listening to David James Allen, it often feels as if he’s channeling every cool record you’ve ever owned. Built upon a rootsy funkiness that’s part JJ Cale and The Band, accentuated with shades of Daptone and Bill Withers, his songs spin off into emotional realms populated by the likes of Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Harry Nilsson. As with all great art, the magic is conjured through alchemy, and more importantly, through a connection to a level of consciousness few of us have the capacity to access.
David has been releasing music for more than a decade, but over the past five years—after moving eastward from Toronto to the wilds of Prince Edward County—he has been startlingly prolific. Beginning with 2017’s When The Demons Come and carrying on through 2020’s Radiations and the following year’s The Architect, David has been steadily amassing a remarkable body of work that stands alongside those of any of his Canadian contemporaries.
Now comes By The Summertime, an album that keeps David’s winning streak solidly intact, despite being conceived under unusual circumstances. It will be officially released June 9, via David’s own Littleknown Records. He explained, “After I’d finished The Architect, I found myself in an unexpected position of needing to make another record within a specific time frame, and that’s basically how By The Summertime came to be.
“My first instinct was to dive into old notebooks and hard drives for past ideas, but of the 10 songs on the album, only two came out of that. I ultimately decided to use a clean slate for the rest. I’d never really approached an album that way before, and it made the writing process really exciting, especially given my deadline. I would be jotting ideas down constantly during breaks at work and demo-ing them at night. I wanted to try some different writing styles steeped more in poetry and stream of consciousness writing, as opposed to character driven narratives. That blended with the more open and free musical approach I wanted to take, stemming from my recent interest in learning how to play guitar in a more jazzy style.”
To record By The Summertime, David reconnected with his co-producer for The Architect, William D. Crann, with sessions conducted online until it was safe to book in-person time at Catherine North Studios in Hamilton, ON. In keeping with his desire to try something new, David decided to record his own parts first and then add different combinations of instruments through overdubbing. He called upon many old friends and collaborators to achieve this, and the results range from the easy-flowing opening track “Billowed,” to the swampy “The Devil And Me” and the blue-eyed soul of new single “Blush And Hide.”
David cites Canadian poets Al Purdy and Nelson Ball for inspiring many of his new lyrics, but he could surely write his own book based on the backstories to each song on By The Summertime. When pressed, he singles out “Holly”—“a reflection on drugs, dingy bars, old relationships and backwards priorities. I think this is one of my favourite country/folk songs I’ve written”—and first single “Another Day Older,” a further exploration of the perils of hard living, highlighted by Jillian Sauerteig’s shimmering string arrangement.
Although David’s music can sometimes feel otherworldly, he couldn’t be more down-to-earth as a person, content to also express himself through his graphic design work for both his own projects and others’. However, for By The Summertime’s artwork, he wanted to try something different too. “I became fascinated by this small, framed embroidered piece of art hanging in the laundry room of my building,” he says. “It turned out it was made by my neighbour, Deb, who does embroidery as a hobby. She allowed me to use it for the album cover, so I took it out of the frame and digitized it. It’s folk art filled with passion and the comforts of home, and the embroidery process feels similar to how I approached songwriting and production on this record.”