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Guelph Mercury
Arts & leisure, Friday, October 1, 2004, p. B1

Poetry just led to music; The 22-year-old with the mature voice swings from jazz to rock and roll


GUELPH - If the flavour of an artist's work can be determined by the names of artistist influences dropped into biographies and reviews, then Allison Crowe is a strange case indeed.

Because the list of artists that have found their way onto the 22-year-old's web site biography at times seem strangely incompatible with each other.

On one hand, we learn that Crowe has shared a stage with jazz diva Diana Krall and was handpicked by superstar Jewel to be a "guest artist" on the U.S. folk singer's Web site.

On the other, we learn that her cover of the Beatles' chestnut Let it Be made it onto a strange tribute album that also featured improbable laudations to the Fab Four by punk pioneers Dee Dee Ramone and ex-New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain.

Her listed influences veer from predictable choices like Tori Amos to the rawer acts like Patti Smith and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder.

At 16 she played a collection of Ella Fitzgerald covers in a smoky club as her professional debut, but has also been known to show up with full band in tow to showcase a leaning towards Janis Joplin-influenced rock and roll.

Now, as a solo tour brings her to Guelph's Manhattan's Jazz Bistro on Wednesday, part of the fun will be seeing which Allison Crowe shows up.

Apparently, much of it depends on what piano the bar provides for her.

"I've played on some real cool pianos," she said in an interview from a tour stop in Prince Edward Island. "In Halifax, it was a standup piano with almost a honky tonk sound. I got to play a Steinway the next night. I'm looking forward to the baby grand at Manhattan's."

The tour is in support of Secrets, her debut full-length album that is receiving glowing reviews in her home province of British Columbia. When taken alone, the album seems to place her comfortably into the singer-songwriter mould of acts like Sarah McLachlan. But that is just one side of her act.

Crowe said her set list is usually determined by the venue, the audience and the mood she happens to be in at the time.

"It's kind of eclectic," she said. "I play a lot of the songs from Secrets, but I have quite a few harder rock songs. It depends on whatever I'm feeling that day and whatever suits the song as well."

Born and raised in Nanaimo, Crowe was classically trained in both piano and jazz. She was singing at the age of six, preferring to stick to the jazz singers like Fitzgerald she heard blaring from her family's record player.

At 13 she began writing poetry. At 14, she decided to combine her early musings with music.

She has now been penning songs for nearly a decade.

But reviews of her shows and album tends to concentrate not on her songcraft but her mature-beyond-her-years voice, an astonishing instrument that can cover everything from Janis Joplin grit to the smoky sophistication of Nina Simone.

Singing and songwriting "has just kind of blended for me now," she said.

"It's just two sides of the same job. They kind of go together: I write them and I sing them. One goes with the other."

In British Columbia, Crowe has been the subject of two one-hour concert television specials. The second of those, Allison Crowe: Tidings, is scheduled to run on Ontario airwaves later this year.

The trip to Guelph is part of her second Canada-wide tour. Her 2002 debut trek across the country found her playing with a full backing band, while this time around she will be alone at the piano.

"This is my first major, solo tour," she said. "It's just a different experience. I'm not sure how it's different. But both are really cool in their own way."


Photo: Singer-songwriter Allison Crowe, who will be at Manhattan's Jazz Bistro on Wednesday, is looking forward to playing on the baby grand piano there.