Frances Marr Darling, Cowichan News Leader-Pictorial
Saturday, December 6, 2003
The Diva Fest audience two weeks ago witnessed a full-voiced revolution of the spirit on stage: Allison Crowe. Her style is simple: piano chords under a voice that soars and swoops, trills and catches, dips to a last breath. "I speak the music language better than anything else," she says. And her confidence promises to shake the way music does business.
Crowe bounced on stage tossing a knit scarf over her striped jersey. She sat at the Steinway, prattled and giggled. But when she switched from chatter to song, her voice opened like a great resounding bell. Not as polished as Joëlle Rabu or Nicky Deanne (torch singers who left us breathless), her voice shone strong and wide like a bridge heart to heart, nothing in its way.
Just turned 22, Crowe went pro on her 16th birthday début at Nanaimo's Savoy club. She'd sung in the music festival, musical theatre, high school choirs, plus jazz combos in more club dates.
Meanwhile, investigative journalist Adrian du Plessis retired to Saltspring after two decades exposing dubious ventures in Vancouver's financial world. Working on some of Canada's most sordid stories, he says, "I'd be writing on my computer watching deer come into the garden. I had to ask myself, what do I love?" He started promoting young musicians, meeting Crowe in 1999. "What she has you may come across once in a lifetime. She's my Billie Holiday."
He's been managing Crowe's trio - with Dave Baird on bass and Kevin Clevette on drums - ever since. Their reputation spread. After touring and cutting a six-song CD last year, their big break came in New York last August. Crowe travelled there to work on an album with Sony partner Bardic Records, where she struggled to stay true to her voice and style. But three weeks later she came home.
"It was fun and stuff," she says, "but it was weird to have someone working on my songs, making suggestions, adding choruses and catchy hooks. Overall our philosophies didn't quite match."
With auto-tuned, pitch-corrected voices and lip-synched air - not just in studio but live on stage - the record industry has lost its soul. Crowe is an artist who works on her craft. She still takes lessons from first teacher Andrea Bertram "to help keep your instrument going" - this week learning an opera aria from Don Giovanni. The industry couldn't resist messing with this kind of integrity.
"The entire experience made me realize how important my independence is to me. I wasn't willing to give up my band or my manager. Now we're working back up and getting our momentum again, and I know it was the right choice."
Momentum includes a new Christmas CD covering haunting songs like Sarah McLachlan's Angel and seasonal classics. Crowe's trio is featured on the CHUM TV network's Christmas Day special. In the new year they'll start that full-length album, with a cross-Canada tour planned for spring (including DivaFest). She tours and distributes her CD's independently on the Web and in individual stores, singing her own songs, true to her own path.
An audience looking for what's authentic will find her via Internet and word of mouth. That's how she can leave the major labels behind. That's how a music industry that forgot the art of music will be forced to change, or implode.
As she sings in Leonard Cohen's anthem, "Hallelujah."