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Reviews - This Little Bird
Trevor Raggatt, Wears The Trousers (UK)
May 2007

 

1 Effortless

2 Skeletons and Spirits

3 A Case of You

4 Alive and Breathing

5 There Is

6 Now

7 Silence

8 Circular Reasoning

9 Darling Be Home Soon

10 Phoenix

11 I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)

12 This Little Bird

 ***½

Only a year or so has passed since Canadian songstress, Allison Crowe released her live double album, Live at Wood Hall but she returns with a new studio set comprising new songs and a selection of well chosen covers on This Little Bird.  The live discs clearly show Crowe to be an artist who combines technical accomplishment with an ability to imbue her performances with emotion which betrays a beguiling mix of strength of spirit and delicate bruised soul.  With this in mind the fact that this new disc is a “band” album, rather than a solo effort, raised some concerns in my mind.  Would we see this little bird struggling to flutter above an overpowering rhythm section or swamped by layers of unnecessary overproduction?

Well, those worries were unfounded as the new songs are less presented in traditional “band” format and more “solo singer/instrumentalist with tasteful accompaniment”.  Phew!  The fragility and intimacy of Crowe’s vocal is retained, couched within the context of her tender and expressive piano playing while, when she stretches out into impassioned proclamation, the voice and piano remain squarely front and centre of our attention.  Where additional instrumentation is added it is as a complement to her remarkable vocal approach.

And recorded that voice is no less expressive than it is live.  Ranging from pure and angelic to sultry and confessional, Crowe excels at all levels.  The cover of the Joni Mitchell classic, A Case of You, demonstrates this perfectly.  The song covers Crowe’s full range – both tonally and emotionally – from strident confidence in the strength of love down to low groaning of self doubt and despair.  Live favourite Never Loved a Man… remains a tour de force even in a studio setting.  The distinctive vibrato which so clearly marks out Crowe’s vocal style is in evidence throughout but studio disciplines leave it more tempered and restrained than live where emotion and involvement in the moment can take control of pure performance technique.

For the most part the backing musicians are tastefully employed although there are a few moments scattered across the disc where perhaps the odd timing or note choice issue should have been addressed prior to final mastering.  However, this does not too seriously detract from the album.  In fact, on Skeletons and Spirits the fact that the hand percussion seems slightly out of kilter with the piano merely emphasises the subtle oddness and foreboding contained in the lyric.  Speaking of lyrics, the songs presented on Little Bird continue to range across the type of areas that so many songwriters cover – whether that’s questions of self-worth or self-awareness, finding and maintaining meaningful relationships or broader, for want of a better word, “political” areas.  However, as with all of Crowe’s output these otherwise standard topics are dealt with in a peculiarly insightful, intelligent and emotionally literate way.  Once again, on this album this talented young singer belies herself – This Little Bird is no Crowe, she is pure nightingale!

                                                                                            Trevor Raggatt

 

 

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