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Monday, October 30, 2006

Allison Crowe: This Little Bird

Allison Crowe's new album, This Little Bird, has finally been released so I'm consolidating my posts about the album into this one. I've been living with and listening to an advanced copy for almost two months now, waiting for the official release to post my full review. Despite being very familiar with the songs by now, I was still quite excited to receive the finished product last week.

This Little Bird includes nine original songs and a trio of covers: "A Case of You" (originally by Joni Mitchell), "Darling Be Home Soon" (originally by John Sebastian) and "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)" (originally by Ronnie Shannon, best-known as covered by Aretha Franklin).

In addition to her credits of singer, songwriter, and musician (guitar and piano), Allison engineered and produced the album. The packaging of the album is simple and elegant, apparently a throwback to the old school vinyl jackets. The photography is initimate and candlelit, taken by Billie Woods (currently on tour with Allison).

Though I obviously love music very much, there are only a few singers that can really get to me with only the power of their voice. Eva Cassidy, Jeff Buckley, Antony & The Johnsons, and Damien Rice are a few examples of this, and now Allison Crowe.

"Effortless" is one of those subtle songs that quietly draws out whatever emotion you're feeling. Or at least that's how it effects me every time I listen to it. The lyrics stand out almost as much as Allison's voice. The insecurity and self-doubt of the song are very easy to relate to, and as usual Allison's vocals sound completely sincere.

I'm not certain if the opening lyric is the best part of "Skeletons and Spirits", or if it's the cowbell. Either way, it's a great song. The vocals go from the wry and slightly bitter opening verses soaring into an almost wail and then sliding back down into a purr.

I am probably the only person in the world that wasn't in love with Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You". Which is weird since I like most of Joni's other songs, but I just never got the mass appeal of this one song of hers. And the covers, oy. Like "Hallelujah", it's covered far too often by singers who really have no business singing it. Until now. Yes, I realize that Allison could sing the alphabet and I'd think it was a masterpiece, but still. Her emotive singing style made this song finally click with me, and now I'm like everyone else who loves it.

I love the way "Alive and Breathing" starts out so quiet with Allison's solo vocals over a simple tune and builds into a crescendo of voices and music. Sadly, the full aural experience of the song doesn't seem to carry over well into mp3. It sounds much better blaring from the stereo.

"Now" remains one of my favourites on the album. I wish that every singer-songwriter that considers doing the speak-sing thing would listen to this song. This is how to do it right. On the verses, Allison speak-sings, but she sings more than speaks so it flows smoothly with the music and blends into the all sing chorus. It's structured just right and sang beautifully. Of course, I know very little about song structure or writing or singing really, but I know what sounds good to my ears and this one surely does. Especially at the end when Allison unleashes that voice.

"There Is" and "Darling Be Home Soon" are pretty piano tunes. "Silence" is a haunting waltz featuring throaty vocals that fade into a siren chorus. And "Circular Reasoning" is probably spectacular on stage with its guitar, bells, whistles, and pure, lovely vocals.

On "Phoenix" and especially on her cover of "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)", Allison gives a soulful, soaring vocal performance worthy of the great female jazz and blues vocalists of decades past.

Need more cowbell? "This Little Bird" has it. The title song is an upbeat finale for an album that I love from beginning to end.

I can honestly and without hesitation say that This Little Bird is my favourite album of 2006. I haven't wanted to immerse myself in an album so intensely since I first heard Antony & The Johnsons. I think if the music blogiverse has any taste at all, Allison Crowe will be the new artist to be pimped out everywhere.

Allison and her manager have generously allowed me to share four songs from the album here:

Allison Crowe - I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (mp3)
Allison Crowe - Effortless (mp3)
Allison Crowe - Now (mp3)
Allison Crowe - Skeletons and Spirits (mp3)

Allison Crowe Official Site

Buy the album

Allison will be performing in the U.K. and Ireland as part of Oxjam on the following dates:

October 20 - London, Lauderdale House
October 21 - London, Halo
October 24 - Brighton, Sussex Arts Club
October 26 - Glasgow, Ramshorn Theatre
October 29 - Liverpool, Heart and Soul
November 1 - Dublin, Bewley's Café Theatre
November 3 - Aberdeen, Cowdray Hall
November 4 - Dundee, Chaplaincy Centre

Head over to The Face of Today for a review of Allison's October 21st performance in London.


Note: Unless otherwise noted, right click on the mp3s to download them to your computer. Please do not post the direct link to my mp3 files to any other site or blog. Instead link to Muruch or the particular post they are featured in.


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