Around 11 last Monday night, Holly Renee Allen could hear her son playing guitar in his room, picking out the notes to “House of the Rising Sun” and “Dueling Banjos.” As she listened to her 14-year-old work through the classic songs, she thought about the callouses on her own fingertips, the ones she started building as a teenager, holding six strings to her guitar’s fretboard.
When Allen kissed her son goodnight, she let him know she’d heard him. “Okay, I’d like for you to quit school in the eighth grade, take up the guitar, and go out on the road,” she joked.
Allen’s own story started in this same Stuarts Draft home, where she grew up in a musical family. Her father is a third-generation professional fiddler, her mother sang in the church choir, and growing up, Allen and her two sisters quickly discovered that, if you played an instrument, you didn’t have to wash dishes after supper. On Friday nights, Mr. Allen’s country band performed in local lodges and clubs, and Allen would join him for a song or two.
By age 17, she had been writing and performing her own songs for a few years, and she decided to give Nashville a go. She left home with her country-folk-Americana songs and a couple hundred dollars in her pocket, and established herself in songwriting circles in Nashville and Atlanta. She recorded with the late producer Johnny Sandlin (The Allman Brothers Band and Widespread Panic) and members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (also known as the Swampers).
On Friday, Allen plays a concert at The Front Porch to celebrate the release of her fifth album, Appalachian Piece Meal. She’ll be joined by Richard Smith, the record’s producer, on guitar; her sister Becky on vocals; Marc Lipson on bass; and Jim Taggart on fiddle and mandolin. Her friend Susan Munson opens the show.
“It’s my coming home record, a project I’ve dreamt about for four years, maybe even a little longer,” Allen says of Appalachian Piece Meal.
At first, Allen wanted to make it a regional project, almost like a compilation album of songs written and played by local artists. When that didn’t come to fruition, she aimed to do a project with her father, but it quickly became clear that her dad, who is 90 years old and still plays fiddle “wonderfully” at home, could not do an in-studio recording session…
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