On his third full-length album Horizons, singer/songwriter and American Idol winner Kris Allen sharpens his songcraft and brings a more boldly openhearted spirit to his soulful brand of poprock than ever before. With his past work including a 2009 self-titled debut featuring the platinum-selling single "Live Like We're Dying," Allen's first independently released album finds him reaching a new level of sophistication in his melody-minded songwriting while fully tapping into his natural grace as a singer and guitarist.
For Allen, Horizons began with the spontaneous writing of "Beautiful & Wild," one of the album's most gently powerful tracks. "That song came to me as I was falling asleep, and I got up and started writing and realized it was different from anything I'd ever done," says the 29-year-old Arkansas native of "Beautiful & Wild," a song partly inspired by the birth of his first child in the summer of 2013. "It wasn't trying to be a big pop song or to please anybody else - it just felt very organic and personal and straight from the heart, and that ended up shaping the rest of the record for me."
After writing much of the material for Horizons at home on his front porch in Arkansas, Allen headed to Nashville to team up with Charlie Peacock (the Grammy Award-nominated musician/songwriter/producer who's previously worked with artists like Switchfoot, The Civil Wars, and Brett Dennen). Once he'd fine-tuned his songs with the help of Peacock and several other co-writers and worked to weave together such elements as graceful R&B grooves, rootsy country/folk-rock riffs, and sublimely catchy pop hooks' Allen took to Peacock's studio, where Horizons was largely recorded live. "We did most of the songs in just a few takes instead of going through and making sure every single thing was completely perfect, which I think gives the album a different kind of energy than the records I've done in the past," says Allen.
As Peacock points out, the ease of that live-recording process had plenty to do with Allen's pure talent as a performer. "His vocal phrasing and timing are the stuff of the great music of the last 50 years," Peacock says. "And his songwriting is similar, in that it's also natural and unforced and very much linked to the simpatico between his singing and guitar-playing." Still, Peacock encouraged Allen to take greater control over his artistry by pushing beyond his comfort zone and moving into previously unexplored territory, especially when it came to writing lyrics for Horizons. "One of the coolest things about working with Charlie was that he got me to write some songs that I was reluctant to write, but that turned out to be some of my favorite tracks on the album," says Allen. Among the topics that Peacock urged Allen to address: the serious car accident that he and his then-pregnant wife Katy suffered in January 2013, a head-on collision that left Allen with a broken arm and unable to play guitar for months on end.
Drawing inspiration from beloved artists like James Taylor and Paul Simon, Horizons is built on intensely intimate and inward-looking songs that ultimately take on a universal dimension, thanks entirely to Allen's warmth and ingenuity. After opening with the bright guitar and breezy rhythms of "Young Love," the album encompasses everything from the beautifully moody piano ballad "Lost" to the handclap-driven and harmony-soaked pop escapism of "Everybody Just Wants to Dance." Tracks like the sweetly stomping "Don't Set Me Free" showcase Allen's soaring vocals, while "Prove It To You" features a smoldering, string-accented duet with Nashville songstress Lenachka. And on "Beautiful & Wild" the quietly stirring, mandolin-kissed number that originally set Allen's songwriting in motion - Horizons sees Allen twisting melancholy into hope with lyrics like "There's probably no saving us/But I wrote this song to try."
Lifelong passion for music has played a key part in helping Allen achieve such a richly textured selection of songs with Horizons. Born in Jacksonville, Arkansas, Allen grew up singing in church, learned to play viola at age eight, and quickly joined the all-state orchestra. "My dad was a singer and musician, so music was always a big deal in my house," Allen recalls. "When I was 13, I picked up my dad's guitar and started playing, and after that I never really stopped." Soon becoming obsessed with musicians ranging from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Stevie Wonder to Garth Brooks, Allen wrote his first song at 18 and self-released an album when he was 22. In summer 2008, he auditioned for the eighth season of American Idol and after dazzling audiences with such performances as his keyboard-accompanied rendition of Bill Withers's "Ain't No Sunshine" emerged as the season winner. With "Live Like We're Dying" premiering several months after his Idol victory and eventually climbing to the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, Allen followed up his self-titled debut with 2012's Thank You Camellia.
While Allen acknowledges that his writing has become more refined and cohesive since he first started dreaming up songs as a teenager, he also notes that a certain dynamic has stayed with him through the years. "I've never been one to shy away from catchy songs with big choruses," he says. "I always want people to connect with my songs right away and sing along right from the first time they hear them." And with Horizons marking his first release since departing from the label system, Allen says he found a whole lot of joy in pairing that pop sensibility with uncompromising artistry. "There were times when I was nervous about doing this independently, but I stuck to my guns and made it on my own," he says. "It's been a totally new journey and there's so much more freedom to making music now. In the end I'm the one who has to be happy with the record and make something that means the world to me, and that's exactly what I did."