Songs 'just keep coming'
Crowe, a prolific writer, captures musical snapshots on her travels
By ANDREA NEMETZ - Entertainment Reporter - The Chronicle Herald
Thursday, Apr 28, 2011
SOME SONGWRITERS hole up in a cabin to craft their songs.
British Columbia songbird Allison Crowe, who has drawn comparisons to performers as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Edith Piaf and Jeff Buckley, spent the winter doing just that in her adopted home of Corner Brook, N.L., where, on a cold, rainy day in late April, she optimistically states she is hoping for an end to winter.
But she can’t turn off the need to write, so the songs on Spiral, her latest album, were created in her native Nanaimo, Chilliwack, White Rock, Denman Island and Saltspring Island, all in B.C., Vienna, Hollywood and Corner Brook.
"I’ve been doing about an album a year now," says the singer-songwriter, 29, whose first recordings were made live off the floor at the Worldwide Jammer Convergence for Pearl Jam fans in Seattle in 2001.
"I write a lot and it’s nice to have a place to put it all. It’s like these songs are a snapshot. I sometimes think the last thing I want to do is record an album, but the songs keep coming."
Spiral is her eighth album. And like her upcoming concert Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Music Room in Halifax, it contains a mix of old and new.
"There are some live recordings from 2003 that I had written and performed and then forgot about. When Adrian (du Plessis), my manager, suggested including them, I had to relearn stuff."
The gorgeous Wake Up was recorded at a show in Chilliwack in 2003, and when Crowe thinks back to that time, she remembers being "so naive."
In the intervening years, she has improved her technique but still rejoices in the simple act of playing for an audience, whether solo, accompanying herself on piano or acoustic guitar, or with her band.
The band heard on her album includes Brendan Millbank on cello, Dave Baird on bass, Laurent Boucher on percussion, Larry Anschell on electric guitar and longtime friend Billie Rocha-Woods, who not only plays acoustic guitar and provides backing vocals, but has also taken most of the pictures appearing on all Crowe’s albums.
Crowe says performing solo at the Music Room gives her the ability to experiment. It is the fourth or fifth time she has played the intimate venue on Lady Hammond Road with its impressive Steinway grand piano and she loves it.
"It’s got a beautiful sound and it’s the perfect size."
Several of the songs on Spiral were written while she was touring Europe, which Crowe has done twice a year since 2005, except for last spring when her plans were derailed by the erupting Icelandic volcano.
"You play a show, hop on a train and in a few hours you’re in another country," she says, the excitement bubbling over.
"I love being on the train. You can see everything out the window."
Going Home Tonight was written on a train while in France and is one of the first songs she created long distance, working with Kayla Schmah, a Los Angeles composer and film scorer who grew up on Saltspring Island and whom Crowe has known for a decade.
"I’d send her what I’d done and she recorded it and put in on the Internet and we’d test it out that way," Crowe says, noting Schmah orchestrated and produced the album.
While performing live is Crowe’s favourite thing to do, she limits her tours to three or four weeks because after that she just longs to be home.
Corner Brook might not seem a conventional place to base one’s music career, but Crowe, who lives with her dachshund, Link, and her cat, Johnny Cash, who is bigger than her dog, loves it.
"There’s a great music scene here. Almost everyone you talk to plays music. Most are in a band playing original music. They are young and up and coming."
Spiral also includes three covers, including Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No. 2.
Crowe, whose iPod now contains Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, Loreena McKennitt, Florence and the Machine, Mumford & Sons and United Kingdom artist Laura Marling, notes she has admired Cohen for years.
"I like his words and melody and the fact he doesn’t overly complicate his songs."
Crowe was asked to be on a Cohen tribute album created by U.K. music magazine MOJO in 2008, featuring, among others, Judy Collins, Linda Thompson, Katie Melua, Nick Cave and Susanna and the Magical Orchestra. Crowe sang Joan of Arc, which appears on her Secrets album.
She was part of a BBC Radio documentary called The Fourth, The Fifth, The Minor Fall, celebrating Cohen’s iconic Hallelujah and featuring different versions of the anthem by singers like Imogen Heap and Kathryn Williams.
Crowe can’t leave a concert without singing Hallelujah, a tune included on her Christmas album Tidings.
"I still love playing it. It’s a beautiful song. If I leave it till late in the show, people start asking me to hear it. It’s been covered so many times. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know it."