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Just the Right Note
Allison Crowe takes flight as the Island’s newest icon.
Nicholas Johnson, Nexus
November 13, 2002

First there was Diana Krall, then came Nelly Furtado, and now it’s Allison Crowe’s turn to welcome the world as Vancouver Island’s newest musical star.

The 21-year-old pianist hails from Nanaimo and has been playing music since the age of five. It’s been in the past year, though, that Crowe has been making big waves off the shores of Vancouver Island.

If you take a little bit of Tori Amos, add in some Sarah McLachlan and a pinch of Pearl Jam, you get the rich, powerful sound that Crowe is known for.

"It just comes naturally. What else would I do?" says Crowe. "It’s like therapy to me. I get to scream and vent through my writing."

Crowe and her manager, Adrian du Plessis, have recently joined forces with Jack Ponti, a figurehead in the U.S. recording industry. Ponti has guided the careers of a number of prominent musical acts, including the seven-time Grammy Award nominee India.Arie. They expect to have a major release from Crowe by early 2003.

"Nothing’s definite yet," says Crowe. "I’m writing a bit more and we sort of have some tracks down to work on."

Du Plessis, also an award-winning writer, is best known for his gumshoe work on exposing the corruption surrounding the Vancouver Stock Exchange over a decade ago. After he got dubbed "the scourge of Howe Street" for his work on the VSE, du Plessis moved to Salt Spring Island and began a non-profit organization that aided in the careers of young musicians. That’s when Crowe came into the picture.

She has been waiting her whole life for this moment. Trained as a classical singer, it was in a high school band that Crowe first got the taste for performing. It was those years that she received the support and encouragement to bring her where she is today.

"If I didn’t have a family that supported what I did, I wouldn’t be doing this," she says. "You don’t always believe in yourself, but it helps to know someone believes in you."

The once-shy girl from Nanaimo has been slowly getting used to the onstage atmosphere and all the attention of a local celebrity. Singing professionally since the age of 15, she has already captured the hearts of those on Vancouver Island and beyond. Last April, she was featured on critically-acclaimed singer Jewel Kilcher’s website.

"Beautifully moody or riotously rocking," the site reads. "Allison Crowe creates piano-based music of transcendent quality."

Crowe brings together the worlds of jazz and rock remarkably through her deep, soulful sounds. Her diverse love of music, which includes everything from Beethoven to Ani DiFranco, has no doubt aided her already original sound.

"Everything I listen to influences me in its own way," says Crowe. "I don’t want to emulate someone, but it does influence me."

The music of "Alley", as her friends tend to call her, has been prevalent for a couple of years now, and it was at Vancouver Island’s "Songbird Talent Competition" in 1998 that Crowe began to take real flight. Since that time she has toured the island and taken her show across Canada for 17 performances in 24 days on the "Crying in a Rainstorm" tour.

Crowe is accompanied by fellow high school band mates Dave Baird, on stand-up and electric bass, and Kevin Clevette, on drums and percussion. Baird’s creative, flowing bass lines and Clevette’s rhythmically tight beats mold perfectly with the rich, elegant notes of Crowe’s voice and piano. The chemistry of the group is evident in their recordings and can be heard even more in their live performances.

"We respect each other," says Crowe. "It makes it easy to communicate and be totally honest."

Fans wait with anticipation for Crowe’s debut full-length album to be recorded. So far, she has compiled a number of demos and EPs, including last July’s 6 Songs+ EP. The disc was put together under the guiding eyes of engineer Larry Anschell who has worked with Pearl Jam and Sarah McLachlan, and was recorded at Turtle Studios in White Rock.

The EP showcases a number of the songs Crowe brings to the stage, and newer pressings of the disc include the song "Midnight". The track is a highlight in Crowe’s still-young career and the band has already filmed a video under the direction of Alex Postowoi, who has filmed artists like Bif Naked and Jann Arden.

"The video was lots of fun," says Crowe. "I respect actors so much more now. For three minutes of footage it was, like, 13 hours of filming."

The band wasn’t away from the studio for too long: they returned to Turtle Studios in the spring of 2002 after gaining a FACTOR grant and began working on what they hop to be a new full-length album on a major label.

Crowe and her band recently recorded a one-hour television special on the New VI. In front of about 25 fans, Crowe performed five powerful and emotional songs and answered questions on her rising career.

One of the highlights of the show was the song "Philosophy," which the trio then lead into Pearl Jam’s alternative rock anthem "Jeremy".

The intense sounds that Crowe creates in a live environment are those that many veteran artists strive their whole careers for.

Her emotional stage presence comes naturally. Crowe can control the mood of the whole audience, whether she belts out an intoxicating power-ballad like "Philosophy," or slows life down with simple yet moving songs like "Scared".

Her songs carry a mood and a feeling that entrances the listener. They speak of her life and the life that goes by around her.

"I draw from personal experience," she says. "Sometimes just stream of consciousness... sometimes just seeing how things go on."

It seems as though the right note has been hit. Crowe is without a doubt the new music icon of Vancouver Island. Nelly Furtado may sing "I’m Like Bird," but it’s Crowe’s turn to take flight now.

Nov. 23 at Camosun’s Young Auditorium
Tickets $10/$15
Or 250-537-1286