Clodagh O’Connell, The Vancouver Courier
Wednesday, May 23, 2001
The first thing you notice about Allison Crowe is her voice. Rich and dark, it seems to come from a place most singers can only dream of accessing. Then there are the songs. Filled with raw passion and accompanied by Crowe’s eloquent piano playing, they seem too fraught with torment to come from the soft-spoken 19-year-old quaffing chai tea at a Commercial Drive café.
Dressed casually and with her mum sitting in on the interview, Crowe seems blissfully unconcerned about cultivating an image. In an industry where packages like Nelly Furtado are buffed up and marketed with ruthless precision, Crowe is unusually ambivalent about mapping her career course. When asked about her ambitions as a performer, she shrugs shyly.
"It’s not such a big deal for me. I’d rather just be able to play whatever way I can," she offers.
To date, the Nanaimo native has toured only as far as Chilliwack but even with a limited number of live performances the buzz is growing. An appearance on VTV’s morning show, and a recent demo recorded at Bif Naked’s studio in Gastown and produced by Naked’s manager Peter Karroll, are ratcheting Crowe’s profile.
It’s tempting to define Crowe, who performs at the Arts Club Granville Island May 31, by the snippets of other talents echoing through her music (Elton John meets Edith Piaf?) but the singer Crowe is most reminiscent of is Fiona Apple, another fragile young woman with a preternaturally worldly voice and a shiver-inducing delivery. Like Apple, Crowe pours poetry and passion into her textured songs, and, like Apple her shyness falls away when she begins to perform.
Crowe’s own personal hero is Tori Amos. "She’s different, she has a big following of people and she’s not necessarily mainstream," Crowe explains, also citing DIY hero Ani DiFranco. (A recent Vancouver date included a breathtakingly raw version of DiFranco’s "Independence Day.")
A classically trained singer, who has been playing piano since the age of five, Crowe cut her teeth on high school musicals. Her initial performances featured ever-changing configurations of musicians from her high school stage band. Though her live shows were intermittent at best, she did manage to garner some superlative reviews, including one in the Vancouver Island music paper Cosmic Debris that caught the attention of Adrian du Plessis.
Du Plessis is best-known as the investigative journalist who blew the lid off Vancouver Stock Exchange corruption a decade ago. Eschewing his days as white- collar crime fighter, du Plessis moved to Saltspring Island and began the youth arts collective Tsunami.
Despite word of mouth about Crowe that even made it to the Texas music festival South By Southwest, the young singer proved difficult to track down, even for a seasoned investigator like du Plessis. "She’s not exactly on the front lines," du Plessis laughs. "But I thought if it’s this hard to find her there must be something."
When du Plessis finally connected with Crowe at a show in Chilliwack, he immediately recognized she was different from any of the artists he’d worked with previously.
"Allison is at that world level and it's priceless and rare to come across someone like that," says du Plessis. "She’s also the least motivated by money or commercial success than anyone I’ve ever encountered. My training for 15 years has been exposing scams and dishonesty and illusion so for me in a way the goal is to take something that’s pure, which is Allison’s artistry, and guide her through the minefield [of the music industry]. She’s someone who can make you cry with the beauty of what she does. My goal in life as an idealist is to see that these things survive."