Friday, 15 May 2015

Allison Crowe - Hallelujah - live-in-the-studio

Having just reviewed Crowe's latest album of live cuts, here is a fine example of her doing just that with her remarkable voice and covering fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. I have been prompted to explore her work more widely, and I am on the journey, especially looking forward to my copy of Little Light [*] for which those solo recordings on her latest Sylvan Hour were being worked. To hear one off this album, Allison singing another fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell's A Case of You, check it out here if you like what you have heard.

[*] Though that should have been The Little Bird, as I am currently listening to Little Light which is again live recordings [very honest ones, as tuning issues here and there] and I want to hear the studio offerings. I now also have Spiral so will listen to that for further comment.


  1. Again, thanks for your kindness in sharing your discoveries - and, specifically, here of Allison Crowe's music :)

    Serving as her manager from the very start - I've had the honour and privilege of witnessing her creative arc. With respect to what you're noting re the honesty, the unvarnished, nature of her recordings - very broadly I can add there's an element of necessity being the mother of invention. When Allison explored and rejected the corporate industry route - at the start of this century - it resulted in her making records her own way - and, in the context of modern productions - extraordinarily simply.

    And, I've come to realize, much as she does intend to record bigger sounds, more instrumentation, and such things as will require more sophisticated production on the tech side - it's also a reality that such simplicity and honesty is in keeping with her essential self and artistry.

    Of her solo performances on record - some 90 percent or more are single, first, take recordings. That goes for "studio" recordings - which makes them akin to her live-in-concert recordings. A small number of solo performances may be second or third takes. Her pattern with a band is pretty much the same - they play live-off-the-floor, and songs are all captured in, at most, two or three takes.

    On a couple of albums, there's vocal harmonies and/or instrumental tracks added to the original live-in-the-studio (or live-in-concert) base tracks.

    So far, that's how Allison's made every recording for 15 years. She may try some different approach one day - but, that's what you'll hear on anything available to now.

    1. Appreciate you stopping by again, and the detail of this response.

      Allison obviously has a superb voice in her favour as a performing artists, but she also has in you, her manager, someone of the kind of belief and commitment that many artists [and I mean those with genuine talent too] fail to have in support and encouragement, and thus it is so hard for them to survive - on that talent alone.

      It is interesting to hear you describe Allison's rejection of the corporate music industry - and good on her. It is a brave decision, one of conviction, and again I assume it will ultimately have had your support [it seems she is quite determined in her own right!]. It is a little ironic that the 'solo' and at times unadorned [by over-production values of that industry] quality of her recorded music is also its strength. So there is also an integrity in that decision and outcome.

      I still have 'Spiral' to listen to [and my only reason for not is mainly work commitments], though I have just put it on as I type this. Interesting, there is nothing that seems 'lost' in production values on opening track 'Dearly' - though simply done, it is not by any means amateurish [and I know you weren't suggesting this].

      So here is the difficult one: I trust it is clear I am a fan of her work, in as much as I recognise its quality and have wanted to write about it - but with such unstinting support from you and the absence of the devil's advocate of an/other 'partner' [I guess that music industry] who provides the critique? Allison's voice is without question her virtuoso strength and distinctive feature. For me, there are times where she overdoes/overplays that virtuosity. There are many singers who would give their proverbials to have that chance, I acknowledge! Neither here nor there, but I wanted to ask the question, and in the context of my liking and respect.

      Finally, I guess that without the corporate music industry you do have an uphill battle with the publicity/promotion side of things. For me, that is the insidious side of this, where those with mediocre talent can get the publicity push they don't always deserve, or perhaps more generously put, others with equal or better/differing qualities cannot compete [though the idea of 'better' is always a subjective judgement].

  2. I keep hoping to have opportunity to reply here when I'm not nackered. However, with Allison launching a new band at present, and a series of live dates in production - by the time I finally get home to do my own reading and writing - well, I'm needing to sleep before another boat is caught in a few hours. You ask a very interesting question - to answer, with proper mind, I must, and shall return! Before too, too long! Cheers!

  3. May you, and all who visit here, be enjoying a terrific Summer! I'm working my way back into things online, after the new band whirlwind and all (which is still ongoing, but, less physically demanding for the time being).

    Soon as I've caught up with certain duties, I'll return and address the specific themes relating to Allison you've raised.

    And, those considerations and elements are embedded in the context of the social organization. For decades now, there’s existed a record industry that’s not about the music. If you’re not playing that game of politics and payola, simply, you will not swim in that stream of radio-play, media coverage etc. here in North America.

    Joni Mitchell’s assayed the establishment industry and her observations, told to W magazine a decade-or-so ago, remain timely - and are concise and candid words on the modern “biz”:

    “They’re not looking for talent. They’re looking for a look and a willingness to cooperate… As long as they look good, they can pitch-correct them now - they can interior-decorate their music. The artists don’t have to play anything - they can cheat, buy songs and put their name on them, so they can build the illusions that they are creative. And because [the record companies] made you, they can kiss you off." +

    "I hope it all goes down the crapper. It's top-heavy, it's wasteful. It's an insane business. Now, this is all calculated music. It's calculated for sales, it's sonically calculated, it's rudely calculated. I'm ashamed to be a part of the music business. You know, I just think it's a cesspool."

    Catch up with you soon!

  4. It's been a Summer of great excitement, but, I seem to have overdone it, and health has suffered. I'm nowhere near back on top, but, if I wait for that to happen, it may be too attenuated a thought process for me to respond here!

    This would be a great discussion over a brew, or pot of tea, or just jawing, period. There's so many aspects to these issues, and they're interdependent - so as to maintain some sort of focus, I'll pull on the thread about an artist having a devil's advocate or external ears to provide a critique...

    In the case of Allison - musically, she does create much alone, though she does have fellow musicians, and, over the years, working with vocal trainers, audio engineers, producers, artistic directors etc. - she's evolved her ideas and aesthetic.

    She and I don't discuss music or creativity. I'm not telling her this is great, any more than I'm telling her that needs work. I don't do either.

    And, when it comes to the music industry, if there are people such as John Hammond, Norman Granz or Jac Holzman - the types who can genuinely help a young artist develop, we've not met them. Instead, one sees an industry driven by corporate imperatives - and music that is producer-driven not with regard for the art, but geared toward formula and, as Joni Mitchell says, "calculated music".

    In this wasteland of a music industry, it's my view that Allison's proceeding as she does - on her own - better than her contemporaries. I can think of four or five case studies I know well - the paths of other artists, solo/band, who've been making music for much the same time period as Allison.

    For them - their most meaningful and original music was made - in some instances on their first album, after which it's been downhill - to others who maybe were allowed to grow and explore two or three albums before getting locked into the sausage-making machinery of the industry. In each instance, those artists, again to my ears, have not made recordings for over a decade now that are worth a listen. They've made plenty of money, for sure, but, their artistic growth has been greatly stunted. (Or, perhaps unfettered they'd still have run out of ideas and stimulation within one to three albums.)

    What I do hear and witness with Allison - aside from the financial challenges that can limit her palette when it comes to production or musical accompaniment - her own talents have not peaked, her ideas have not become dulled, and her recordings today are as vital as those she first made 15 years ago. Similarly, as a live performer, her concerts today are as exciting and fresh as her first shows. It's exceedingly rare one can say that of any artist - even the iconic greats don't have such streaks often, if at all.

    For this reason - she's better than ever live and on record - and the industry reality for musical performers is the opposite. Until a modern-day music person appears, and we'd be open to that, it's marvellous to me to see how Allison takes her own steps and does it her way.