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A Mega-Talent In The Making
Nanaimo's Allison Crowe 'could kick the crap out of a Lilith Fair audience'.
Adrian Chamberlain, Times Colonist
Saturday June 23, 2001

First came jazz diva Diana Krall, then pop star Nelly Furtado. And now ~ if the record industry buzz is to believed ~ a teenaged pianist-singer from Nanaimo could be the next talent to emerge from Vancouver Island.

"I think Allison Crowe is one of the most exciting new artists to come along anywhere in a long time, not just for B.C. and Victoria, but for the world," said Peter Karroll, who in May co-produced Crowe's three-song demo at his HRM Studio in Vancouver.

"She looks like a little kid up there, but she's got all kinds of talent," agreed Chris Brandt, an artists' rep with Universal Music in Vancouver. "She could kick the crap out of a Lilith Fair audience."

Crowe, 19, performs at Lucky Bar tonight with her trio, bassist Dave Baird, and drummer Kevin Clevette. Three years ago, she won the Island Songbird Talent competition, topping 17 other singers at the Vancouver Island Exhibition. Last year she opened for Tara MacLean on Saltspring Island. More recently, she appeared on VTV's morning show, and performed at Vancouver's Arts Club lounge.

Her demo recording gives an inkling what the fuss is all about. Crowe's songs are smartly conceived and replete with musical hooks. Her singing ~ somewhat reminiscent of Fiona Apple's ~ has a youthful passion and intensity. And her voice is coloured with a slight huskiness that's affecting and vulnerable-sounding.

The teenager's minor key piano ballads are frequently paired with confessional lyrics. Disease starts with: "Stepping on the thoughts of all pain/released from this anger/is some place I'd like to be."

In person, Crowe is amiable and slightly shy. She says her lyrics are often borrowed from her diary.

"It's personal, stream of consciousness. Just whatever comes out."

Brandt says he caught Crowe's Arts Club concert, and subsequently phoned in a "rave review" to Universal executives in Toronto. Any missteps on stage were the result of youthful inexperience, not a lack of talent, he said. What Crowe needs to do now is get more exposure on the Mainland, he adds, noting: "The fact she's been isolated on the Island is tough."

Karroll's praise for Crowe is unqualified. He believes the thick texture of her voice puts her in league with the legendary female singers of the late '60s and early '70s such as Carole King, Janis Joplin and Grace Slick.

Karroll believes she's "80 per cent there" as a songwriter and performer, and says his independent label, Her Royal Majesty's Records, (also Bif Naked's label) would be interested in signing her in the future.

Crowe's manager, Adrian du Plessis, says she's about to apply for a federal grant from FACTOR (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records) to assist with recording a full-length independent CD.

"We're also aware of some major label interest, which could change all the plans," he added. Crowe, sitting beside her, knocked on a wooden desk for luck.

She took classical piano lessons as a six year old. As a child, Crowe had a couple of unplanned sabbaticals from the keyboard. She broke her arm twice - once when she fell from a set of monkey bars, another time when her grandfather fell on her.

She reached a Grade 7 level with her Royal Conservatory of Music exams. When she was 13 years old, armed with a solid classical background, Crowe began writing her own songs. Rick Becker, her old band teacher at Woodlands junior high in Nanaimo, recalls Crowe as an unusually talented student. She excelled when she took the lead in a school production of the musical, Once Upon a Mattress.

"She did an outstanding job. It was like having a professional amongst a cast of amateurs."

At age 15, Crowe talked her way into an open stage performance at the Queen's Hotel, Nanaimo's premiere music club. At first, the nightclub owners were reluctant to grant her entry because she hadn't reached drinking age.

"It was the first time I was ever allowed in there. They weren't gonna let me in the club," said Crowe, who was ordered to stand meekly away from imbibers beside the sound board until she performed.

"After I sang, they let me be in there all the time."

On Aug. 23 and 24, Crowe will play at Vancouver's Railway Club, a legendary venue where such top Canadian acts as Sarah McLachlan, Blue Rodeo, and k.d. lang once cut their teeth. It could be an important career boost, possibly putting Crowe before the eyes and ears of influential industry types.

She admits, at times, she finds her success so far slightly bewildering.

"It's like, 'What's going on? Why me?' I don't know. But it's good," said Crowe.

[photograph by Debra Brash/Times Colonist] caption: Three years ago, Nanaimo's Allison Crowe won the Island Songbird Talent Competition. Now, she is the singer everyone is raving about.