Crowe and Woods, picture perfect
Bruce Mason, Gabriola Sounder (Canada)
April 30, 2007
There is no end of superlatives for the music of Allison Crowe, some recently published in the Sounder in advance of her concert at the Community Hall, Friday evening, April 20th.
“Why music? Why breathing?” she is often quoted as saying. “A voice to fall in love with,” and “Elton John meets Edith Piaf," are a few examples of her global critical acclaim.
A personal favourite is Shelagh Rogers’: “She has a voice that would swallow up the Montreal Forum.”
High praise in such a place is usually reserved for legendary Habs, such as the Rocket, Boom Boom, Beliveau, Lafleur, etc. In a nation that prides itself on hockey to the point of obsession, there is something else in which we can take justifiable national pride, our young, female singer-songwriters.
And for my money Allison Crowe is the best of the bunch, certainly the most versatile.
Striving for the high standards set by Joni Mitchell, they are finding success in numbers and international appeal that reaches sales established by Anne Murray, Celine Dion and Shania Twain. And their numbers are growing, as more doors open world-wide.
Crowe has several decades to equal Mitchell’s body of work. Her voice is as radio-friendly as Murray and Twain, arguably better, and she sings as well as Dion, although not as much, if you know what I mean.
Crowd pleasing: from the second she stepped on and off the MV Quinsam, Allison Crowe charmed and graced Gabriola. Photo by Billie Woods.
I can’t get her version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” out of my mind, except when the space becomes occupied by phrases that linger from her definitive versions of “Let it Be,” “Imagine,” and others.
I have to try to hard remember how Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill,” goes; and off-hand can’t hum a line sung by Nellie Furtado, Avril Lavigne, or the others, originals, or covers.
At times – to my ears – she played piano as well as Diana Krall and seemed to be having more fun, sharing the source of her amusements, often off-beat, uncool, but always free-form.
Completely spontaneous, giggling, she admitted taking up belly dancing and “I tucked my dress under my pants because I didn’t want to wear a dress and it’s as slippery as satin sheets on this piano bench.”
During the encore she asked: “Do you want to hear Janis Joplin or Sarah McLachlan?” before launching into the request of the majority, pounding and belting her way though “Me and Bobbie McGee,” with the benefit of bottled water, rather than Jack Daniels.
She can, of course, do Sarah, equally as well, and writes as honestly as any of them, the hallmark of this generation of young Canadian female singer-songwriters who have captured the world’s attention and set music on its ear.
In a world that can’t carry a tune, awash in note-less annoying rhythm, she is creating melodies and performing them superlatively, bless her heart, passion and talent.
"I love singing for people," Allison Crowe is, again, often quoted,. "It's a way to connect and share with others. Communication is crucial. Just being able to do what I do, to write and sing and perform, makes me feel not only alive, but incredibly lucky. Knowing at any moment everything could change, I don't take one second for granted."
Thing is, she means it. I know that from personal experience.
On the ferry from Nanaimo during the afternoon of the concert an attractive young blonde lady tapped on the window of my pickup truck and asked if she could take my picture. Given the number of times I ask people that, I couldn’t refuse, besides she was carrying a Nikon with a wide angle lens.
“We are playing on the island. Have you ever heard of Allison Crowe?” she asked, looking over her shoulder and pointing to a figure waving from a van, a few rows away.
“I’m Billie Woods, the photographer and warm-up act,” she added. “I was born and raised on Salt Spring but my grandfather, Scully, spent a lot of time on Gabriola.”
Woods spent some time in Brazil and, influenced by the music, plays Spanish guitar. Sometimes on-stage, she resembles Liona Boyd, if the guitar wiz could sing and write. Add her voice to the chorus of the national genre to keep an eye and ear out for.
“A lot of it is Bossa Nova and Samba, but I also play Brazilian pop music. In my own music I have adapted the finger styling in all my songs and mixed it with a bit of classical and alternative turnings,” Woods explained her unique sound.
She thanked “Allie” for taking her along on her globe-trotting musical adventures.
Crowe has been playing and performing since the age of five, and 20 years later has built a hot international career from the grassroots, one listener at a time.
When I left, she and Woods were stacking chairs, their shared laughter echoing in our hall after performing one of the best concerts in the rich history of the place.
Several days later I looked on Wood’s website to send her a picture I took of her standing beside the sign outside our community hall.
And there was my picture, an old guy, overweight and balding in a rusty pickup truck filled with cheap bamboo plants from Costco, playing a banjo on a ferry.
Guy on Gabriola ferry, playing banjo. Photo by Billie Woods.
Allie and Billie and have their eyes on us all, observing 24-7. It’s anybody’s guess what they will come up with, but it will be worth listening to, enjoying and thinking about
Crowe is from Nanaimo, of course, but now lives in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, engaged and happy. Coast to coast, she belongs to the world now, and she is touring it all before coming back this way for Christmas.
In the meantime purchase one of her CD’s, like it says on her website: “rock - gospel, jazz - grunge, classical - blues, folk - soul; a voice that unites genres and generations.”
For Crowe – and Woods – there is no off-season, something for which we can be grateful and proud.