The folk home of Allison Crowe’s music on Welcome to Us 1 is a comfortable, warming habitat. Inside, as Hours opens the doors, an accordion plays that particular genre palette, and Crowe’s vocal paints her first of many vibrant and vibrating colours. As a live recording, Crowe’s chats to and with the audience are so full of enthusiasm and a warming sense of genuine modesty. There is no need for a fire around this humble hearth.
The next Juliana puts that vocal vibrato to the fore and it is on this performance an uplifting instrument. The slight dissonance in instrumental bent notes and the emotive dirge of the cello add to the brooding tone. The quintet of musicians on this and whole album are Allison Crowe (vocals, piano, guitar, fiddle, bodhran), Céline Sawchuk (cello, vocals), Sarah White (mandolin, guitar, vocals), Dave Baird (bass, vocals) & Keelan Purchase (accordion, 12-string guitar, bodhran, harmonica, vocals). A vocal chant/narration he kept her down sets a further haunt behind the beauty of Crowe’s singing on this song about an intentional drowning.
Recorded ‘on the lovely isle of Newfoundland’, the folk inclination is seafaring and contemporary terrestrial. It is often quite raw, as stated also on the album Bandcamp page, and by this it is in the natural, unadorned playing. There is a sense of the Bohemian in the song Silence, a slow polka with, again, those bending string notes and the accordion’s pump and puff, Crowe crystalline in her vocal role. I like this dip and sway and swagger.
A choric ensemble sweetens Verses, a narrative that leads to and breaks out in Morrison’s Jig; Crowe enthuses about the many Newfoundland songs learned and played as the intro to Tarry Trousers which is then delivered in a sublime vocal folk gem; Wedding Song once more places Crowe’s strong lead within the frame of sweet harmonising [beautiful again here], and there is another jig in the wonderfully named Gerald Thomas’ Burnt Potato.
Welcome to Us 2 is the second part of the whole performance, and it is just as fine. But opener I Might sets a jazzier tone, and Céline Sawchuk on plucked cello helps to spread the sassier ambience. As with the previous album, all songs are linked either by Crowe’s chats/narrative, or as here, segues to the next so Shifts of Light/Tones in Translation follows with a return to the folk tropes – living with water as a metaphor for learning and surviving, Crowe using tonal shifts to accentuate the emotion. That sentiment is conveyed through the next immediate segue to I Am the Air, and when we arrive at Lisa’s Song it is an emotive journey.
So the album is unified by the ‘rawness’ [really a relative term] of performance which is excellent, by Crowe’s varying links, including that natural ebullience, by the strong sense of strings and accordion [not ignoring the other] which establish the folksiness but also the often brooding tones, and of course Crowe’s vocal signature. This leads to what is a rightly well-known personal cover from Crowe of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah which I think sits here perhaps better than wherever I have heard it before as a recoding [all good!] because so much has set the tone for this – and maybe it has been my current reading too of Cohen’s The Flame.
There is much more here and across both discs, but I trust this conveys a faithful sense of a whole work informed by honest endeavour and considerable musical beauty. When you buy, you still have the prettiness and jauntiness of Rare Birds to enjoy, the singalong of Now I’m 64, more vocal accompaniment on penultimate Bird Set Free, and then the rousing close of the Suite.