I first encountered Allen Hulsey early on in 2014, on the recommendation of well-known Istanbul music maven, Secil Sonmez. There was a musician, new to Istanbul, whom I simply must check out. There was Hulsey in the YouTube video, be-stooled, just t-shirt, acoustic guitar and all Michael Hutchence/Jeff Buckley rock star looks...the song he was delivering though was real, bare, honest and fresh.
We then went along to Besiktas district’s main live venue, Mutfak Sahne (Kitchen Stage) to see Hulsey and his band live. It was a frenetic, committed, energy-packed performance, the singer playing almost accidental lead guitar, such is his comfort with the devil’s instrument, without a plectrum in skinny blue jeans and simple t-shirt, his impassioned, full voice wowing the crowd. A confident mixture of covers and originals were included, with an almost abstract punk rock intermission.
Allen Hulsey works hard, damn hard, and his ambition is far-reaching - appearing on TV shows and radio stations all over the city, while playing in Aegean coastal resort Bodrum as a residency in the summer. His styles suit the venues and audiences too – that’s presumably what a Berklee School of Music education and fluent Turkish will do for an artist.
We next caught him at central live district Beyoglu’s best blues bar, Agac Ev (Tree House), and witnessed a more refined, reflective set, his tone almost nursery rhyme-like in its languor. Hendrix and Beatles covers were still delivered (a stunning version of “I Want You” included), and he was able to show off his more intimate, gentle side with the small but appreciative audience (speaking of The Beatles, Hulsey is also an ardent Lennon fan, regularly playing in New York on the anniversary of Lennon’s assassination.)
In marked contrast to all this, Hulsey soon after appeared on the IstanbulDogs 2014 compilation, his brisk, stirring, perfectly (self-) produced “Break It Down,” the angry, nervy tale of trying to get a partner to be direct – with a hook that will lodge itself in the synapses for a long time. The New York State originated polymath also has a flair for acting, appearing recently in short film I’m So Tall, and is also an exhibited painter. Music –wise, he is also a noted New York presence through his bands Muj and Emperor City Motorcade.
The singer first visited Turkey when he was 7, and over subsequent visits down the years has developed fluent Turkish, with a handful of his own songs in that language, plus a fair clutch of crowd-pleasing covers. With a finely nurtured balance of musical pedigree (on guitar and cello for starters, and as a musician who means it – no posing here), freeform imagination, and determined, unrelenting focus, you will be certainly seeing and hearing a lot more from Allen Hulsey.
By Sean Bw Parker