Allison Crowe, Secrets (Rubenesque Records, 2004)

This is, apparently, the debut CD of Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Crowe, whose holiday-themed album Tidings impressed me a few years back (after a bit of work on my part). This album demonstrates roughly the same approach to music-making that ultimately impressed me before, with Crowe using her alto vocals to hone in on the important parts of a lyric, while her own tasteful and elegant piano playing backs her up with a minimum of other instruments. The best thing about "indie" music is that at its best, it represents a clean and unfiltered view of music performance in which the ideal is to make you feel as though the performer in question is sitting in the room with you, with no giant bank of sophisticated electronica between you and them, filtering the sound into something that, while often impressive, is still part-industrial. Of course, one has to look through a lot of indie music to find a gem like this, but Allison Crowe's Secrets is indeed just that: a gem.

(And remember, it's a debut album. From this point, she had nowhere to go but up.)

One of the first things one sees on Crowe's official Web site is a quote she apparently likes to give in interviews: "Why music? Why breathing?" That response indicates a driving passion for her music, and this passion is easily heard in her work. What impresses me so much, on repeated listening to Crowe's work, is the way she manages to deliver the right emphasis to precisely the part of a phrase or an entire song that needs it most. She's not content to exist in a boring musical world of "First verse-to-chorus-to-second-verse-to-chorus-to-bridge-to-chorus again." Each of the songs on this album -- nine of which, out of eleven, are her own compositions -- stands alone as its own complete artistic statement. That's an impressive accomplishment for an artist making her debut album. Heck, it's even impressive that she only includes two covers here, especially considering how well done those covers are. (They are "Raining in Baltimore," originally by Counting Crows, and "Joan of Arc," by the great Leonard Cohen.)

The only real negative with this CD as a package is, frankly, the booklet, which contains just a list of performers, a few acknowledgments, and that's about it. I would have liked to see printed lyrics here, especially since Crowe writes her own. Alas.

It took me a while to warm up to Allison Crowe's voice the first time I heard it, but I'm glad I spent the time. She is a considerable talent.