For a guy who has the nickname of “The Professor,” I can be pretty dense sometimes. Case in point, recently I received a copy of a new album from Jim Allchin, and set it aside to review later. I never even connected the name of the artist with the name of a man who had such a profound impact on the world of computers while he was at Microsoft.
I knew Allchin had left Microsoft back in 2007, but didn’t realize that it was the same Jim Allchin who had released three previous albums: Enigma (2009), Overclocked (2011), and Q.E.D. (2013) and has just released his latest album on the Sandy Key Music label, Decisions.
The 14-track disc features songs written or co-written by Allchin. The songs in which he had collaborators featured producer Tom Hambridge and his frequent writing partner Richard Fleming. Contributing musicians include Pat Buchannan on guitar; Hambridge on drums and backing vocals; Rob McNelley on guitar; Michael Rhodes on bass; Reese Wynans on Hammond B3 and piano; and the Heart Attack Horns consisting of Bill Bergman on tenor and baritone sax as well as the horn arrangements, and Lee Thornburg on trumpet and trombone.
Special guests include Kenny Greenberg on guitar for two songs; Steve Mackey on bass for two songs; James Wallace on keys for two songs; Wendy Moten and Mycle Wastman provided additional backing vocals; and Keb’ Mo’ handles the lead vocals on Healing Ground.
At first glance, the opening song’s title, Artificial Life, seems like it would be perfect for a man who spent so many years in the world of computers, but it is not some homage to an Isaac Asimov robot world, but the story of a person trapped in a world that he can’t escape. Allchin proves he can handle a guitar with the best of them and drops in a great lick to open the song. His lyrics take the mundane events of daily life and turn them into art.
He follows up with The Mexican End, a solid rocker that again features his signature guitar, this time playing against the B3, and adding the great sound of the Heart Attack Horns. It’s a cool song about wanting to escape – perhaps that Artificial Life, perhaps more.
Next up is the de facto title track, Bad Decisions, which he co-wrote with Hambridge. It’s got some of the best guitar on the album and the lyrics are tight and very bluesy. It’s a solid tune, and sums up many of our lives, just with a solid rocking soundtrack…
The next song, Healing Ground, features the beautiful vocals of Keb’ Mo’. The song itself is a bit of a departure, written by the trio of Allchin, Hambridge, and Richard Fleming, with a mellower approach to the blues. The great guitar blasts are there and the keyboards add their magic, but it’s not nearly as frenetic as the previous songs. It has a real Santana vibe to it.
Allchin is back to rocking on Blew Me Away. It’s got a nice swing to it thanks to Wynan’s keys and the Heart Attack Horns. Allchin lays in a cool guitar break to tie it all together. He then plays a softer number, She Is It, that almost sounds like a lullaby compared to the harder rocking songs on the album. It has a lovely piano underneath his vocals before bringing in the rest of the instruments.
The first instrumental on the album, Just Plain Sick, follows. And it rocks! It’s a great boogie woogie number that would tear up a bandstand when done live. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album, and you better believe it’s going on my playlist PDQ!
After that quick song, Allchin and Company follows with a slower, blistering number, Friends. It’s a large scale band coming together with great guitar, keys, and horns Chicago style. This is the kind of song that is guaranteed to bring a crowd to its feet just from the intensity of the playing and the singer’s vocals.
Next up is a gentle old-school blues song, You Might Be Wrong, with contemporary lyrics. Much like he did with Artificial Life, he takes our everyday and turns it into art. He even includes a nod to his former life in mathematics, possibly a first in the world of the blues…
The second instrumental, After Hours, is next and it is 180° from Just Plain Sick. This one is a much richer song, although it by no means is strictly blues. It’s a deeper number that I could see as a movie sequence – it’s evocative and beautiful to listen to. Allchin plays the guitar with such flair on this number that he captures your imagination.
Allchin rocks out on Don’t Care, using his favorite guitar licks over organ chords. With a title like that, you know we’re going to be back in the world of the blues. It’s one of those songs that I could hear many other artists picking up and putting their own spin on it, but Allchin wrote it and performed it first!
The slow, thoughtful Stop Hurting Me follows and you can feel the pain through every note. Allchin’s guitar aches with emotion and his vocals just open up and let everything through. It’s a great follow up to the previous song and a solid link to the next.
The most personal of songs on the album is My Father’s Eyes. Allchin’s father passed before he could see any of his considerable accomplishments. It’s a tender song that pulls from every good memory Allchin has of his father. This is the best way to honor those memories.
The album closes with one last instrumental, Destiny. It’s a contemplative number that offers us a chance to meditate on what our own destiny might be. Is it preordained, or is it something we make ourselves? Questions everyone should ask.
Jim Allchin is a fine player, maybe one of the best. By resuming his musical career later in life than many, he’s accumulated many more life experiences from which to draw. What he’s done on Decisions is take everyday things and boil them down to the decisions we make. What is their outcome?
When I was a math student, I loved decision trees. Allchin has made them into music and I really like what I’ve heard. If you find yourself intrigued by this fascinating man, be sure to visit his website, https://www.jimallchin.com/, and look at his previous work as well as everything else he has posted. You just might find a new favorite artist.