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Songstress sets her own flight plan

Nanaimo singer-songwriter Allison Crowe prefers indie status for now

Special to the Journal, Roger Levesque, The Edmonton Journal, May 17, 2006


Where: Yardbird Suite

When: Thursday night at 8

Tickets: Blackbyrd Myoozik, Megatunes, at the door

Allison Crowe is touring Canada by Via Rail.

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EDMONTON - Musically multifaceted, successfully independent, surprisingly accomplished.

All these describe Allison Crowe, but the vibrant voice is the first thing you notice about this Nanaimo-born singer, songwriter and pianist.

At 24, Crowe is part of that growing vanguard of young artists who have managed to shape a musical career on their own terms, complete with four albums, radio and television appearances, and hundreds of shows. Among other notices, she was already picked by CanWest critics as one of Canada's up-and-coming musical stars earlier this year.

Just four years ago, Crowe was courted by a major label, flown to New York and shown into a studio, only to back out when she felt she was being forced to compromise her music and direction.

"I'm big on doing things on my own creatively and artistically," says Crowe.

"Working or co-writing with someone can be a good thing if it's natural and you're having fun, but being put in a situation that's uncomfortable leaves you with something you don't like and I can't live with myself.

"A lot of my heroes -- like Ani DiFranco or Loreena McKennitt -- have done things on their own terms. Maybe one day I'll be ready to make a compromise, but right now I see my career as a slow, gradual thing that just keeps building."

Crowe is making more new fans as she takes her second cross-country solo trip, dubbed the Rock 'n' Rail tour because she's doing it by Via Rail. It's also a chance to road-test new material for another studio album, though the singer admits she much prefers recording live.

You can catch Crowe's compelling live energy on the recent double-disc set, Live At Wood Hall, from her Rubenesque Records label (Festival Distribution). It offers a mix of mostly original songs, a few show tunes and covers of songs by DiFranco, Tori Amos and John Lennon. It's mostly delivered with solo piano, her first means of musical expression, though the next album will also feature the singer playing guitar.

While most of her original material leans towards a first-person point of view and a semi-confessional angle, listeners will find a certain maturity and themes of spirituality that go beyond typical love-song fare, reflecting the fact that Crowe switched from writing poetry to writing songs about a decade ago. She allows that she's a good observer and that personal experience has inspired most of her work. 

Spirituality has been an ingredient in her song themes.

"A lot of time when I'm writing songs it's almost as if I'm writing in a journal so it jumps in there subconsciously like a therapeutic thing. But my songwriting doesn't always come easily. After being classically trained I had a natural tendency to complicate my songs. Now I'm trying to simplify myself, and as you experience more there's kind of a natural progression."

Crowe was exposed to a variety of music live and on record as she was growing up in Nanaimo, including jazz, folk, musical theatre, rock and pop.

After starting piano lessons at five, she dabbled with drums, bass, flute and guitar, taking vocal lessons from 13, playing in various school and concert bands, drawing influence from such artists as DiFranco, Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Pearl Jam and Counting Crows.

By 15, she knew she wanted a career in music and made her first real public performance singing jazz on her 16th birthday.

Two years later, Crowe was in the studio working on demos that later became her debut 2003 EP Lisa's Song + 6 Songs. Her first full-length album, Secrets, followed in mid-2004 to serious acclaim, with another disc of seasonal holiday tunes, Tidings, later that year. Following the release of Live At Wood Hall last year, Crowe toured Europe for the first time, playing dates in England, Ireland, Germany and France.

She has fallen in love with a guy in Newfoundland and now calls both coasts home -- when she's not on tour, that is.

 The Edmonton Journal 2006