Allison Crowe: Heavy Graces

Allison Crowe has been a very busy girl this year. After a surprise cameo in the summer blockbuster movie Man of Steel and the release of her exquisite traditional folk covers album, Newfoundland Vinyl, Allison quickly rushed back into the studio to write, record, engineer, produce and create the cover art for her upcoming album, Heavy Graces. She only announced the album’s existence at the end of last month and Heavy Graces will be released tomorrow, October 15th, via Allison’s own Rubenesque Records.

Heavy Graces is comprised of five new, original Allison Crowe songs, a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” and two versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.”

Allison’s delving into traditional folk music for Newfoundland Vinyl seems to have influenced her own songwriting. Songs like the opener “Through These Heavy Graces” and “You All Haunt Me” layer Allison’s lovely voice over simple but heartfelt folk acoustic arrangements. You can see the premiere of the “Through These Heavy Graces” video, featuring footage from Buster Keaton’s classic film The General, below.

Though Allison apparently only took up the fiddle for the recording of this album, she already sounds like a folk fiddle pro in the standout track “Words.” What a lush piece of work that song is! There’s a touch of Celtic folk in the instrumentation, haunting backing vocals and a slow building, seething tension until Allison unleashes her wail toward the end of the song. I’m very happy to be able to premiere and share the mp3 with you below. Update: I also created and premiered a new video for “Words” on November 22, 2013 and added it to the review below.

As I wrote when we premiered the video for her choral version of “Famous Blue Raincoat,” I couldn’t imagine even someone as talented as Allison successfully matching, let alone improving, Cohen’s original or Tori Amos‘ beautiful piano rendition. Yet where Cohen took the song to a melancholy depth and Tori gave it a bittersweet wistfulness, Allison gives the song a new feeling of suspense with a slightly faster pace and choral embellishments. Her cover at times recalls the elegance of Joan Baez‘ operatic folk rendering. And, as always, Allison’s vocal is gorgeous, multi-faceted and full of emotion and grace. You can stream the track and watch the video below.

Allison’s piano makes a very welcome return on her striking cover of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man.” I’m a Pearl Jam fan, so I don’t say this lightly: Allison Crowe’s cover of “Better Man” is better than the original. You can watch the video, featuring footage from the classic silent film Broken Blossoms, below.

On those two covers as well as the captivating original “Dissolve,” Allison once again uses layers of her own voice to mimic a backing choir. It’s a technique she developed for Newfoundland Vinyl, but she seems to have perfected it on Heavy Graces.

The original song lyrics on Heavy Graces seem to deal most often with regaining control of one’s own life, venting anger at and breaking free from oppressive influences and starting fresh with integrity intact. Whether such fierce and independent themes were born from the death of a relationship or Allison’s brief brush with Hollywood, it seems our favorite independent singer-songwriter is more determined than ever to forge her own path. I predict we’ll be seeing Allison Crowe not once but twice on our best of the year list.

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Allison Crowe Official Site

Tatam Reeves: Free EP Download

Canadian singer-songwriter Tatam Reeves plays quiet, unassuming but nontheless substantial folk-pop. You can download his entire Home EP at Soundcloud. I especially like the songs “The Note” and “Passenger.” The latter is the best example of what Tatam calls his “boom bap folk music.”

Tatam Reeves Official Site

Allison Crowe: Five Classic Mp3s!

As a thank you of sorts for my rave review of her new album, NewFoundland Vinyl (both here at Muruch and on No Depression), Allison Crowe’s management has kindly allowed me to offer five of my favorite songs from her Live at Wood Hall album as free, legal mp3s. “By Your Side,” “Crayon & Ink,” “Immersed” and “Whether I’m Wrong” are all original songs written by Allison Crowe, while “Believe Me If All” is a traditional song rearranged by Allison. You can download those classic original songs below and you can still nab four brand new cover mp3s in the Newfoundland Vinyl review.

Buy Live at Wood Hall @ Amazon

Allison Crowe: Newfoundland Vinyl

Muruch‘s long-time musical mascot Allison Crowe just released her new album, Newfoundland Vinyl. The album was originally created during a theatrical production for which Allison was the Musical Director and intended to represent 200 years of music popular in Newfoundland, yet its true scope is so much broader. It plays like a lovely, vintage collection of traditional Irish and Canadian folk ballads, lively sea chanteys and drinking songs, parlour songs and country tunes with surprising retro, girl-pop harmonies woven throughout. The album is full of dazzling melody and such a unique charm. And Allison’s voice is so strong and spectacular, I’m afraid Foxygen has fierce competition here for my favorite album of the year.

It’s appropriate that Newfoundland Vinyl is Allison’s first vinyl LP, as a more classic album has rarely been recorded. The limited edition, 180-gram vinyl LP is currently only being stocked at select locations in Canada, but is available worldwide in digital format through all the usual online outlets. That is how I’m listening for this review, as I just couldn’t wait for the vinyl to arrive. What an exquisite, unusual collection. What a voice, what a voice, what a voice!

Allison released Newfoundland Vinyl on her own independent label, Rubenesque Records. I’m starting to think Allison Crowe’s DIY folk style is Canada’s answer to Ani Difranco, or perhaps more accurately Anaïs Mitchell since the theater-to-album story of Newfoundland Vinyl is very similar to that of Hadestown. But I digress.

Allison also arranged, produced, engineered and performed the entire album herself — including all of the intricately layered harmonies in which her singular, extraordinary voice mimics a backing choir of singers. I was truly shocked to learn that bit of information, as it sounds as if she has several different singers accompanying her.

The opener “Black Velvet Band” and “The Men Who Die For a Living” are among my favorite tracks.

“The Black Velvet Band” is a traditional Irish ballad about a man’s chance encounter with a girl, which leads to his arrest and transport as a prisoner to Australia. The Dubliners may have recorded one of the more famous renditions of the song, but Allison’s is the most stunning version I’ve heard and just may become the definitive version (as her cover of “Hallelujah” has) over time.

“The Men Who Die For a Living” is a haunting ode to miners and their families that is universally powerful — whether you live in the mining territories of Newfoundland, Appalachia or elsewhere.

“Easy,” which plumbs the depths of Allison’s voice, has a more mellow, classic pop-folk sound and was a 1979 country hit for Canadian singer Eddie Eastman, so it’s a perfect fit for the album’s vinyl theme.

Also of note is the fun, funny, rollicking drinking song “Skipper Billy’s Wake.” It’s one of the more uptempo and humorous songs on the album.

The lilting finale “Sweet Forget Me Not” is another splendid showcase of the album’s pretty, multi-layered harmonies.

This is one of those gorgeous albums that you love more with every single listen and I never thought Allison could make an album that I would love more than 2007′s Live at Wood Hall, but indeed she has.

Newfoundland Vinyl is my new favorite Allison Crowe album, possibly my favorite album of the year and just may be on its way to becoming one of my favorite albums of all time. It has the timeless beauty of a classic folk album.

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Allison Crowe Official Site

Muruch’s Allison Crowe Posts

Don’t forget to enter our Allison Crowe giveaway! You could win a copy of her new album, Newfoundland Vinyl, on vinyl LP and mp3.

Allison Crowe: New Album Announcement!

Muruch’s musical mascot Allison Crowe will release a new album on June 25th! Inspired by her work on the play Newfoundland Vinyl, the album will be Allison’s first available as a vinyl LP. More details on the album will be made known in May.

Buy Allison’s Music @ Amazon

Allison Crowe Official Site

Muruch’s Allison Crowe Reviews