A collection of music from Allison Crowe is like a feast where “all hearts open and all wines flow” - to lift from the poet Rimbaud.
Over a decade of reviews, the word most often used to describe the voice of Allison Crowe is “gorgeous”. The word that testifies more than any other to her musical performance is “amazing”. This month, the much-loved and acclaimed singer-songwriter releases “Spiral”, her seventh album/CD. It is both of these things. And plenty more.
U.S.-based entertainment blog ‘Muruch’ earlier this year named it as an album most highly anticipated, and, now, UK music blog ‘We Write Lists’ includes "Spiral" as one of "The Twelve Most Exciting Albums of 2010", remarking: "Crowe's speciality is startlingly beautiful piano-based songs that sort of make you wonder why you bother with anything else."
(Joining Crowe on the list are new recordings from: Fleet Foxes, Fyfe Dangerfield, Girls Aloud, Goldfrapp, Gorillaz, Joanna Newsom, Marina and the Diamonds, Massive Attack, MGMT, Music Go Music and She and Him.)
For Allison Crowe, a peerless live performer, and a singer-songwriter of the thrilling calibre known in the 1960s, Spiral is the seventh release from her label, Rubenesque Records, in as many years. Musical production wrapped on Valentine's Day.
Spiral contains eight of Crowe’s original songs, ranging from the tender and playful country/roots of “Dearly”, to the upbeat pop of “Double-Edged Swords”, ’cross the loving “Oceans”, and darker terrain of “I Don’t Know” and the hard rocking title track. Raw, natural, emotion is embraced passionately with elegiac beauty and melody in these, and such joy-filled tunes as “Going Home Tonight” and “No Matter the Battle”. With the live track, “Wake Up”, Crowe, again, renders the personal universal, and the global, human.
Uniquely known not just as one of the most exciting songwriters of a new generation, Crowe is also one of our finest interpreters of popular song. Spiral’s mix of light and shadow includes a trio of fresh covers – revisiting music of Annie Lennox (“Why”), Leonard Cohen (“Chelsea Hotel No. 2”), and Hunters and Collectors’ Antipodean anthem, “Throw Your Arms Around Me”.
On this new song collection, the bi-coastal Canadian, (she calls Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Nanaimo, British Columbia, home), is joined by ideally-skilled and sympathetic west-coast musicians Billie Rocha-Woods (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Dave Baird (bass, backing vocals), Laurent Boucher (percussion), Brendan Millbank (cello) and Larry Anschell (electric guitar, and, also, Engineer/Producer at Turtle Studios in White Rock, B.C.)
Kayla Schmah, Los Angeles-based, Canadian-born, composer and film scorer, orchestrates and produces the album with, yes, "gorgeous" musical textures, and cinematic ideas artfully brought to life. Concert capturings by Engineers B.R.N. (aka Condor) and John MacMillan complete this diverse mix of music made in Corner Brook, Nanaimo, as well as Chilliwack, White Rock, Denman Island and Salt Spring Island, Canada, Vienna, Austria, and Hollywood, USA.
The visual art of Spiral matches its aural beauty - with cover paintings by Netherlands-based Tara Thelen, photographs by Canada's Billie Rocha-Woods, and California's Dan Goldwasser, fontage from Brazil’s Billy Argel and graphic design by Florida's Alix Whitmire.
Here's what reviewers say about Allison Crowe's "Spiral":
April 14, 2010
ALLISON CROWE: Spiral
Allison Crowe’s new CD Spiral finally arrived! I posted mp3s from it last November and last month, and the entire album was released digitally on March 17th. But the physical release was delayed due to printing issues, so I didn’t receive my copy until this week. It was well worth the wait. Spiral is Allison Crowe’s best album since Live at Wood Hall (one of my Best of the Decade picks), and is possibly her best studio album ever.
Spiral is a prime example of why I will always prefer physical albums over digital ones. The beautiful gold and silver embossed cover has a lovely peacock painting by Tara Thelen. Cover art and liner notes enhance the listening experience, and mp3s can never capture a moment in time the way holding an album in your hands does. An old album can conjure up the same sense of nostalgia as a photograph.
Onto the music… Spiral opens on a somewhat lighter note. The twangy “Dearly” and “Double-Edged Sword” have a buoyant folk-pop style akin to Dar Williams. But the meat of the album is Allison’s voice and piano, both of which take a more prominent position in the third track.
Allison is probably best known for her astounding rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which has become one of my favorite songs of all time. This time around, Allison tackles Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2.” Her emotive vocal gives the usually sedate song a whole new sense of desperation.
Yet it’s the acoustic transformation of Annie Lennox’s “Why” that proves to be the album’s most captivating cover. Allison’s heartfelt voice drives the song with some help by a lovely, subdued string arrangement. The album includes two bonus alternative versions of “Why” and the album’s other cover of Hunters & Collectors’ “Throw Your Arms Around Me.”
The stand out track “I Don’t Know” is one of those Allison Crowe stunners. Her voice flawlessly flows between the most pristine soprano and gut-wrenching, full-bodied wails. Her intimate, emotional lyrics are layered over a soul-stirring piano melody.
The album’s title track is just as haunting, but has a more frenetic energy to the instrumentation. Allison’s frenzied piano playing is juxtaposed with fiercely low vocals that give the song a murky, seething mood. I bet it’s particularly chilling and spectacular live.
I hear so much music these days, too much for one person really. I’m inundated with such a flood of sounds both good and bad that I sometimes forget what it feels like when a song literally produces chills on your arms.
Then I hear Allison Crowe sing, and I remember the effect music is supposed to have on you. That awe-inspired rush, that indescribable feeling of communion between artist and audience. The gratitude that someone gifted has expressed through their art an emotion you personally lack the talent to articulate. To quote Allison: “Why music? Why breathing?“
Allison and her manager are exceptionally generous when it comes to sharing mp3s, so I have three free, legal mp3s from Spiral for you. Please support this extraordinary artist by purchasing her album at the links below.
Joyfully Caught In Allison Crowe's "Spiral"
April 15th, 2010 · Music
1 Heck of a Guy (USA)
“Spiral” – Great Music And More
Having spent most of the past two days playing and replaying the Allison Crowe “Spiral” CD, I’ve come to certain conclusions:
1. “Spiral” is an outstanding album. That’s hardly a surprise. The album features a great voice, great song selections, and great arrangements. What’s not to like?
2. Listening to the CD renders an already obvious point unavoidable:
newcomers to Allison Crowe should be granted access to her music only on the condition that their first experience is listening to an entire album. Don’t get me wrong – there are several tracks that would, in the era of 45 rpm records, have qualified as hit singles. But, listening to a song or two from “Spiral” is impressive; listening to the entire album in one sitting is overwhelming – in a good way.
3. The “Spiral” CD not only sounds right, it looks right and feels right. Having owned too many of the same albums in too many conformations, including vinyl records, cassettes, 8-tracks, reel-to-reel recordings, CDs, and downloaded files with any number of suffixes (MP3, WAV, AIFF, AU, FLAC, AAC, MPEG-4, WMA, …), I am rarely swayed by format nostalgia, but in this case, the physical CD itself seems a better fit to the album than invisible computer files. It is especially gratifying to discover that the art and the gatefold design evokes the the sense of those albums I bought in the 1960s and 1970s when examining the graphics, reading the liner notes, and considering their implications vis-à-vis the music inside was an essential element in listening to that new record (see graphic below; click on image for best viewing).
The concern shown in this quality of design reflects parallel concerns and respect for the music and for the buyer’s experience.
Yes, I am aware of the irony of offering videos of two tracks from the album immediately subsequent to recommending one listen to the entire album at once as well as gazing upon, perusing, and fondling the CD sleeve lavish. I can deal with it.
Allison Crowe – Dearly (from Spiral)
Allison Crowe – Chelsea Hotel No.2 (from Spiral)
All of the tracks from “Spiral” may be viewed on video at YouTube.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
By Robert Reid, The Record (Canada)
West Coast singer-songwriter-pianist-guitarist Allison Crowe’s Spiral follows a familiar pattern, a pattern that works wonderfully well.
Her seventh album features a collection of original songs complemented by a couple of inspired covers — in this case, Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel (following the success Crowe has enjoyed with her rendition of Cohen’s Hallelujah) and Annie Lennox’s Why.
As a vocalist Crowe doesn’t shy away from emotion and producer Kayla Schmah’s lush arrangements provide an ideal setting.
Allison Crowe - Spiral - Review - Chronique d'un des plus jolis joyaux cachés du Canada
mardi 4 mai 2010
par De Greef Sabine ~ With Music In My Mind blog (Liège, Belgium)
Quand j'ai fais mon post concernant les reprises d'Hallelujah de Leonard Cohen, j'ai malencontreusement oublié de mettre la version de la canadienne Allison Crowe que j'apprécie particulièrement :
Cela fait quelques années maintenant que j'ai découvert Allison Crowe et je suis étonnée de constater que relativement peu d'articles francophones lui soient consacrés. En effet, la belle artiste possède une voix fabuleuse : puissante, maîtrisée, travaillée, dotée d'un vibrato principal vecteur et moteur d'émotions intenses et de chair de poule. Son univers musical est principalement influencé par Leonard Cohen et Joni Mitchell auxquels, elle voue une véritable admiration, ses instruments de prédilection sont le piano et la guitare acoustique qui mettent en valeur son timbre de voix chaleureux et apaisant. Tous ces facteurs rendent sa musique intense et émotionnelle, tout le monde ne peut pas adhérer à ce concept et d'habitude "les chanteuses à voix" ne m'attirent pas du tout mais quand j'écoute Allison, je ne peux que m'incliner devant son talent et sa générosité artistique en ressentant sa passion et authenticité qui sont tout simplement résumées sur sa page d'accueil de son site officiel par : "Why music? Why breathing?".
Auteur(e), compositrice, mutli instrumentaliste, ingénieure du son et à la tête de sa propre maison de disque Rubenesque Records, Allison Crowe n'a pas encore fêté ses 30 printemps qu'elle est déjà à la tête d'une discographie généreuse : 6 albums et 2 Ep's et se trouve auréolée d'une notoriété important dont elle jouit, en particulier, dans les pays anglo-saxons. Comme il n'est jamais trop tard pour découvrir cette artiste unique, j'en profite pour vous chroniquer son septième album Spiral sorti dans le courant mars 2010. Ce nouvel album dont l'artwork est basé sur une magnifique peinture de l'artiste néerlandaise Tara Thelen est avec l'âge, la maturité et l'expérience aidant, son album le plus sobre et maîtrisé. Dearly et Double Edged-Swords ouvrent l'album sur des notes enlevées, la première étant dans une veine folk/country mélancolique, la seconde plus pop et douce-amère. Excellent début en matière, très agréable.
Il se dégage une très belle émotion à fleur de peau sur sa reprise Chelsea Hotel n°2 de Leonard Cohen, les arrangements boisés (la contrebasse + piano) lui donnent un cachet émouvant mais sobre, à l'image de l'interprétation nuancée et habitée d'Allison. Wake Up qui est en réalité un live et non un enregistrement studio démontre qu'il s'avère impératif de voir l'artiste sur scène pour se faire une idée plus précise de son énorme talent de vocaliste. Je firssonne à chaque écoute de ce magnifique morceau. La cassure est peut être trop importante avec le son plus polissé mais très plaisant d'Oceans qui fait place au somptueux et poignant I Dont Know, un des highlights de l'album, une véritable petite merveille. Le tumultueux, sombre et virevoltant Spiral offre une superbe vue sur la musique d'Allison, ici davantage complexe et "rock" que d'habitude. Throw Your Arms Around Me, qui constitue la seconde reprise, cette fois-ci du collectif Hunters & Collectors s'avère rehaussé par le talent inné de vocaliste d'Allison Crowe qui est à son summum sur la dernière reprise Why d'Annie Lennox. Reprendre une artiste aussi marquante qu'Annie Lennox est sans conteste casse-gueule pourtant cette version acoustique mise en scène à l'aide d'un violon, une contrebasse et guitare sèche, est époustouflante. Allison n'a jamais été aussi proche de l'émotion, son interprétation à la fois sobre et passionnée est totalement bouleversante. Sans conteste possible, l'une des meilleures reprises de l'année 2010. La belle atmosphère planante qui parcoure Going Home Tonight en fait l'un des mes morceaux préférés de l'album (avec Why, Spiral, I Don't Know et Wake Up). Magnifique. L'album se clôture sur une note plus relevée avec le vivifiant et brave No Matter The Battle. Pour la petite info, l'album contient également deux versions alternatives des titres Why et Throw Your Arms Around Me.
Un septième album d'excellente facture mettant en valeur une Allison Crowe qui s'impose, de plus en plus, comme l'une des très grandes vocalistes et artistes du Canada.
Friday, 23 July 2010
Allison Crowe - Spiral
Music Obsessive (UK)
As I have already reported, Allison Crowe’s new album, ‘Spiral’ plonked through my letterbox all the way from Canada a while back. I’ve had a week or two to assimilate it so it’s time to post a few comments.
My first impression on opening the package was of the unusual nature of the digipak that contains the CD. It is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The design of the pak, which opens out to reveal the disc, is beautifully conceived and contains a montage of part embossed and wonderfully colourful images around the main disc holder. Unusually, and so much better is the way that the user does not need to drag the disc out of a tight cardboard sleeve, thus scratching it forever, but can merely remove it from a slotted base after all the flaps have been folded back.
So, full marks for packaging but what about the content? Allison is known for the largely piano based output of her previous albums like the acoustic ‘Little Light’ released in 1998, but this time she has gathered her small but select touring band around her and the effect is to fill out her sound in quite a delicate way.
As has become standard for Allison’s albums there is a majority of original material with one or two covers of others’ songs. In this instance, she has covered Leonard Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel No 2’ and Annie Lennox’s ‘Why’ and for me these are the highlights. It takes a certain type of artist to take another’s song and have the insight to reinterpret it in a way that makes you see another side to the song. There has been a good amount of discussion about the subject of covers in this blog in recent months and commentators have contributed a whole list of cover versions from a variety of artists where they feel that this object has been achieved. Certainly it is a subject that seems to provoke a lot of debate amongst musicians and listeners alike. In the case of Allison Crowe I do not need to make a case as her record of covering songs by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and other big hitters in the song writing fraternity proves.
This album shows yet again what a sensitive interpreter she is. ‘Why’ in particular is a tour de force performance giving the song a spine tingling sheen. And this is where I find myself wondering what direction her career might take. Left to me, I’d say that in view of her special talent, she should reorganise the content of her albums and increase the number of covers. This sounds like her own material is sub-standard, but that is not true, it is just that she may find playing to her obvious strengths may benefit her in the longer term, but that’s just my opinion.
In any event, this is another fine album and comes with an unconditional recommendation.
Luna Kafé record review (Sweden)
Canada - Full Moon 170 - 07/26/10
Allison Crowe - Spiral
Allison Crowe is an artist who's yet to disappoint me. She always delivers fabulous records and the delightful Spiral is no exception. She's in terrific voice throughout and delivers some well-chosen covers including a superlative "Chelsea Hotel 2" and a passionate "Why" by Annie Lennox. Her own songs fare equally well, "Double-edged Swords" is a fine example, Crowe's ever-flexible voice dancing across a restrained backing to great effect.
She really sets her own stamp on the aforementioned "Chelsea Hotel 2" even if she never knew Janis Joplin. "Oceans" is just beautiful, Crowe's sweet vocals coming to the fore to a melody full of soul. The title song yet again proves her talent, as Crowe sings her heart out. She's made yet another album to treasure. If you don't know her music, now's as good a time as any to discover it.
Copyright © 2010 Anna Maria Stjärnell