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Allison Crowe’s Tidings of Comfort and Joy and the Opposite, Too

The Girl Can Write - Little Miss Chatterbox   wild mood swings

Friday, November 30, 2008 Allison Crowe at Heliconian Hall

It’s too early to be sure, but I’ll go out on a limb to say Allison Crowe will go down in history as the brightest northern star in music. Yes, I realize we’ve got Joni Mitchell, Glen Gould, Leonard Cohen, and Sarah McLachlan. Hell, we’ve got Gordon Lightfoot. Then there’s bratty troublemaker Avril, who can be a bit embarrassing with her brand of small-town gutter punk- but on a good day sounds like Sinead O’Connor. But I think all of these will graciously relinquish their places to allow Allison to take her rightful seat on the throne as composer, writer, pianist, vocalist, and innovator extraordinaire.

Like I said, it’s too early to tell. Little sister Alley’s only 27, and just becoming a household name thanks to her stunning cover of Papa Leonard’s Hallelujah. She wasn’t trying to upstage K.D. Lang, whose lulling sultry country interpretation stunned us in 2004, but upstage her she did. Alley’s live number became something of a cult on YouTube, and for many fans and strangers alike, it’s the song they hum when they think of Allison Crowe.

Of course, history is seldom made out of a single single, no matter how astonishing, and the girl is a far cry from being a one hit wonder. Crowe’s future reign over Canadian pop divadom is simply the logical result of her prodigy. I picture her, not long from now, under spotlight behind a grand piano, on some massive music awards show, in a black Dior gown with Converse or combat boots. She’ll make a few of her peculiar trademark quips to let us share her nervousness, and we’ll begin to shift uneasily in our chairs, but in the next moment we’ll be shattered by impossible sounds. For Crowe formidably commands the piano to her will, sometimes battering it with all the fury of a hurricane, sometimes coaxing it with the lightest touch into sensual submission. There are few people in all of history who can play the piano as well as Allison Crowe.

For those of us who were nursed primarily by noises that beep and blip, there is something primal and unnerving about this music revelation. The piano might be in the way, ironically, of Crowe’s immediate success, because with her nervous, curvy beauty and big voice, the music industry would have her right now blasting the radio waves with something a little more Pink or Avril. But this dressed down diva’s extraordinary prowess and piercing vocal abilities are really just accompaniment for the accompaniment. And while she’s quirky and contemporary in her own way, the girl’s got an old soul that rightly insists on her own vision. To that end, she began Rubenesque Records and has an array or records already- records where her boss did not ask her to change a thing. While some might say you can’t be a pop songstress and an instrumental genius at the same time, in the same concert halls, to the same audience, Crowe begs to differ.

Sure, the cherry chapstick brand of buoyant bubbledom is infectious to be sure, but there’s plenty of that, it’s the definition of pop already. Allison’s going to merge a more serious kind of performance back into public consciousness, just as we all get tired of music that is made out of plug in popularity. And her intimidating intensity is rather addictive, and that’s why I rushed back to Toronto’s Heliconian Hall to see her Tidings tour, though I saw her perform already this year. The show was opened by lovely folk singer Stacey Burke, who set the ambiance for excellence.

Tidings, Crowe’s latest, is a different kind of Christmas album. Recorded by Larry Anschell (Pearl Jam, k-os, etc), it features a few old favourites like It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and O Holy Night, and Allison soared during these songs at the show. A real spine tingler was hearing Joni Mitchell’s River rediscovered.

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

With this haunting Canadian hallmark, Crowe drew us inside, and then worked her hoodoo magic with rafter-raising, bone-rattling, nerve-shattering manic music. It was an almost pagan incantation to the gods of winter, the howling petitions of ancient circles for peace in chaos, bringing us from the vast and terrible freezing storms into the shelter of promise that Christmas’s very heart signifies.

Allison interrupted the shepherd’s watch by night to take us deep into the heart of darkness with her decidedly anti-festive Disease- all about the shallow end of the gene pool. Here is where you’ll glimpse some of Crowe’s deepest powers. Though her wide-ranging covers demonstrate beautifully that she can always outdo an original and remain quite humble and clueless that she’s doing so, her real talents go even deeper. Disease is a modern masterpiece, a full symphony or opera if you will within a few moments of music. Here she conjures hell, and shows her full mystery as a composer. (Wherever ‘words and music by Allison Crowe’ appear, you may be changed or damaged beyond repair, forever.) Here you descend into the pit of hell, quite literally. Crowe may have been burned at the stake for this dark spell in other times- her spell is more powerful than Dante’s Inferno, and before the literati come to hang me, too, I simply ask you to watch this frenzied fit of insanity before you say it isn’t so.



It’s powerful, dark magic like this that may make some critics tell her to tone it down and pray for bubblegum, but rest assured Crowe doesn’t leave you in hell, for her heart is full of hope and she has an undeniable sweetness: indeed, her emotions in motion span the full bipolar range from despair and disbelief, smoothing into calm and serene, then straight up into the heights of soaring ecstasy.

And while the slick and sickly ick and goo of the Christmas recordings by, say, Clay Aiken or Michael Buble are the real reasons people put a hole in their head over the Christmas holidays, Tidings might help you find your way back to whole.

Not everyone can bring down the divine, not everyone can be vast and mythological or bring the gifts of the gods into a winter’s night. But Allison Crowe channels the spirit each and every time.

Visit writer Lorette C. Luzajic at www.thegirlcanwrite.net.

Posted in allison crowe, canadian music, music, piano, tidings tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:22 am by thegirlcanwrite



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