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November 6, 2005

 

Allison Crowe, Tidings (Rubenesque Records, 2004)

I'm not sure how to take this album. Upon my first perusal of the track listing, I said, "Ah, a Christmas album." It has traditional Christmas songs like "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," "Silent Night," "What Child Is This," and "The First Noel". Then there's Joni Mitchell's "River," which is also a Christmas-inspired song, so that makes sense. But I'm not sure that Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is exactly a Christmas song; ditto "Let It Be" and "In My Life" (by a songwriting duo named Lennon and McCartney -- I should check these fellows out one of these days). It's a pretty eclectic mixture, at first glance, but as I listened to the album, it all made sense in the context of a larger spiritual theme. This is a very meditative and reflective album, the kind of thing you put in the stereo after you've lit a few candles, turned out the electric lights, poured a bit of wine, and curled up on the floor.

Allison Crowe is a singer-songwriter from Vancouver Island, Canada, who performs her own accompaniments on the piano, which I find refreshing after a fairly steady listening diet of guitar-playing singers of late. According to Crowe's Web site, she already has an impressive resume as both a recording and a touring artist. Tidings, of course, consists entirely of covered material, so I can't evaluate Crowe's songwriting skills from listening to this.

But what of her performance? I must be honest here: I had to listen to the disc several times before I became used to her voice, or one specific facet of it. Crowe sings in a full-bodied alto with a vibrato that, at first, I found distractingly thick on occasion, almost to the point of being an actual "warble." While I got used to this after the second or third listen to the CD, I still find that on occasion Crowe's vibrato creates an unpleasant effect when she hits a note that the disc brings into surprisingly sharp focus. As this does not happen consistently, however, I suspect that this is more an artifact of recording than a problem with Crowe's actual delivery.

This is good news, as Crowe is able to sing these songs very convincingly. In the case of the Lennon-McCartney songs, I've long tended to prefer their songs when performed by anyone other than themselves, and Crowe provides more evidence for this; I particularly enjoyed her rendition of "In My Life," which happens to be my favorite Beatles song. The other big highlights on Tidings, for me, are "O Holy Night" and Cohen's "Hallelujah" (although the latter seemed, to my ears, to be recorded "louder" than the songs surrounding it, such that I had to dial down the volume during the song and restore it to its previous setting for "Silent Night"). Crowe's self-accompaniments are always tasteful and confidently done.

For those who would like to hear a different manner of Christmas album, I'd suggest Allison Crowe's Tidings. Once I got past my initial impressions of her singing voice, I recognized Tidings for the well-considered, thoughtful album that it is.

[Kelly Sedinger]

 

Kelly Sedinger, Senior Writer, having already spent years amassing enough books to stun a team of oxen in its tracks, realized what his life mission must be when he read that author Umberto Eco actually had to switch apartments because his old home could no longer support the weight of all his books. Kelly hasn't reached that point yet -- his wife, daughter, son and two cats serve as brakes on his compulsive book-purchasing -- but he's doing his best to get there. When not buying books in absurd quantities, Kelly spends time writing, being amazed at the weird things his kids do, watching DVDs, and wondering just where he's going to put the tons of new CDs he buys when he can't find a book he wants. Oh, and reading those books.

Kelly maintains a nearly three-year-old weblog called Byzantium's Shores, as well as spending his non-literary days working happily at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY. Other passions in his life include American football (focusing on the Buffalo Bills); classical, film and Celtic music; Star Wars; baked pasta dishes; and more chocolate and coffee than can really be healthy. Kelly can be reached by e-mail at jaquandor@aol.com.

 

Reprinted with permission from Green Man Review.
Copyright by Green Man Review.