2006: December 18 ~ "not a single turkey, nor any stuffing"...
Tidings, Allison Crowe's mix of traditional
carols such as "In the Bleak Midwinter", "What Child Is
This", "Silent Night", and songs of joy, peace, and
redemption from the modern, secular, songbook is a favourite of, both,
music fans and critics. It's been called: "The Yuletide find of
the year... an absolutely stunning seasonal album that can be enjoyed
year-round." Applause is heard for the vocalist/pianist's
"truly transcendent" takes on Joni Mitchell's
"River" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".
Wisconsin DJ and sociologist, Dr. Gerry Grzyb, AKA 'Dr. Christmas', has commented: "Of over 100 new Christmas CDs played on my show, Allison's drew the most listener interest." Others, around the world, bill Tidings, a newly emerging classic, as "A marvelously throughtful album", noting "a mostly unadorned Crowe plays piano... and expertly tackles both Christmas classics and less traditional homegrown songs."
Professor of Law at St. Paul, Minnesota's Hamline University, Carol Swanson, is also a veteran reviewer of Christmas music. She says: "Tidings is an exceptional holiday album, and Canadian Allison Crowe is a stunningly talented performer. Her voice celebrates the music with a bluesy rock-gospel intensity; her controlled vibrato, silken rasp, and powerful projection rivet your attention. This is no casual background music for your holiday party; be prepared to be amazed .this album is packed with highlights from stem to stern. Every song radiates sincerity, creative flair, and emotional intensity."
While enjoying accolades across the spectrum, and reaching an increasingly broad public audience, Allison Crowe continues to create outside the mainstream. Like Nina Simone, or her modern models Pearl Jam and Ani DiFranco ~ the 25 year-old musician chooses not to conform or "play the game". She's true to her own course (bringing to mind Neil Young's mid-'70s quote: " 'Heart of Gold' put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.").
"In an entertainment world that increasingly genuflects at the altar of instant fame, Crowe seems an anomaly, building her career slowly and carefully," observes music-writer Adrian Chamberlain (in an article published earlier this month in the Times Colonist newspaper).
Still, even as she goes her own way, there is a pop culture nexus. Vital ideas from the 'street' are commonly absorbed by those in the corporate sphere, commodified and mass-marketed. Allison Crowe's Tidings concept has itself this year seen a mainstreaming effect with the release by Vancouver, B.C's Nettwerk Records of Sarah McLachlan's "Wintersong" CD. For Crowe, this is a particularly delightful and gratifying turn - she
grew up listening to, and inspired by, McLachlan's '80s and '90s output (including "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" and "Surfacing" albums).
Crowe's original album, Tidings, continues to grow in acclaim - essentially through grassroots discovery by listeners. Upon its initial, full-length, release one reviewer declared: "This high concept seasonal sampler is a triumph." Most currently, in the December 15, 2006 issue of the Women's Post, The Globe and Mail Books Editor, Martin Levin, titles his column "Crowe for Christmas" and says:
"It is customary among some at this time of year, to begin to issue
seasonal greeting by reference to some song. Thus, to readers, I say,
have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, or, to paraphrase ecumenically,
a Cheery Chanukah or a Kolossal Kwanza.
To help you on your way, there is the usual shower of Christmas albums.
You might try CDs by Canadian icons Sarah McLachlan (Wintersong) and the
Barra MacNeils (The Christmas Album II), or journey to the land of the
green Christmas (mostly) for James Taylor's At Christmas, while the most
unlikely source of peace and love is shock-rock heavy metallers Twisted
Sister, with A Twisted Christmas. Somehow, I can't quite associate
chestnuts roasting on an open fire or sleigh bells jing-a-lingling with
Dee Snider and crew.
But I do want to recommend three CDs by Canadians you might not know."
Following praise for Michel Bérubé's "This Christmas" and the Ault
Sisters' "Christmas Feelings (Last Tango)" Martin Levin proclaims:
"But for me, the real revelation is an CD from last year that I've only
just listened to. I refer to that other singer-pianist from Nanaimo,
B.C., Allison Crowe. And if you haven't heard of her or, better yet,
heard her, you really should.
Her album is called Tidings (Rubenesque Records) and they are glad
indeed. Beginning with a brief but stirring rendition of the carol It
Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Crowe launches into a 12-track CD that
contains not a single turkey, nor any stuffing. There are other carols
(Silent Night, The First Noel), but Crowe also pays tribute to the gods
of rock and roll, with charming readings of the Beatles' Let it Be and
In My Life, Joni Mitchell's River and the Rolling Stones' Shine a Light,
fittingly and thematically concluding with Angel.
Crowe's warm, natural, passionate - and need I add lovely? - voice are
perhaps shown to best effect on another glorious standard, Leonard
Cohen's magnificent and deeply spiritual quest for faith, Hallelujah.
It's been sung brilliantly before by the likes of Rufus Wainright and
k.d. lang, but Crowe easily holds her own in that august company. I
expect much more to be heard from her."
Allison Crowe's Tidings television special airs this Wednesday, December 20 at 8 p.m. on CHUM's A-Channel network and associated digital and satellite channels across Canada (check your local listings). Here's a seasonal sampling from Tidings, the album:
In the Bleak Midwinter
What Child Is This
Peace on earth, goodwill toward all. Happy holidays!