“I’m like a diamond in the rough / and it’s tough ’cause the game keep calling my bluff,” Shamarr Allen quips during an impromptu rap breakdown over the rhythms of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” Yes, it’s true: Allen is certainly one of the brightest diamonds in the rough to emerge from the Crescent City in recent years. That was made apparent upon the release of the up-and-coming trumpeter’s solo gem, Meet Me on Frenchmen Street. And, yes, upon the release of his new album, the baffling Box Who In?, it is apparent that the game is calling his bluff. His first album backed by the Underdawgs is a brazen attempt to defy genres, but his efforts to meld rock, rap, brass and jazz never establish a consistent tone and despite its gusto, the album fails to define itself.
That’s not to say that Box doesn’t have its moments. Musically, it is an exciting blend of funky rock, deep grooves and urban-soul fusion. Allen’s sprawling production simply cannot maintain the momentum needed to pull off his far-reaching endeavors. “The World is a Ghetto” and the brass-rap jamboree “Party All Night” bog down the album, which, at over an hour’s length, is already-jam packed with fresh material such as the sweaty, soul burner “Spread My Wings” and the hip-hop stomper “Rock Da Mic.”
Vocally, Allen struggles at times, and lyrically, his freewheeling verses tend to sputter in the wake of his fiery trumpet. “Bad Habit,” a tune co-written by songsmith Paul Sanchez, with its stadium-sized riffs, gushing chorus and tricked-out trumpet solos best captures the idyllic vision of the young, urban rock-star. Judging by his boast, “I’m like Pharrell, Louie, Miles, Dizzy and Jimi Hendrix combined,” Allen still has a ways to go.