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.

I don’t know what is wrong with everyone,
but I guess I don’t even know what’s wrong with me,
& I won’t try to be judgemental, I won’t try to be holier-than-thou,
but I don’t get this & I’m not going to pretend I do.

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.

Allison Crowe – I Don’t Know*
Allison Crowe – Oceans *
Allison Crowe – Going Home Tonight **

*mp3s posted w/ permission of artist’s manager
**mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist’s manager

Buy @ Amazon

Allison Crowe Official Site (Buy directly from artist)

Allison Crowe Reviews

Concrete Blonde: Recollection

If you watched Dirty Sexy Money last night and wonder what the song in the final scene was – it was “Everybody Knows” by Concrete Blonde. For the young folks who don’t know, Concrete Blonde was Johnette Napolitano‘s old band. Their sound was called everything from alternative to hard rock to Goth. They remain one of my favourite bands of all time, and I’ve probably listened to their greatest hits collection Recollection more than any other album that I own. If you liked the song in last night’s episode, you’ll love the rest of their music.

Recollection opens with the rock explosion of “God Is A Bullet”, followed by my favourite CB track the AIDs anthem “Tomorrow, Wendy”, then the more radio friendly alcoholic boyfriend “Joey” – which was probably the closest thing to a mainstream hit that the band ever had. The creepy “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” and the wailing “Walking In London” are pretty much Anne Rice novels set to music. Other highlights are the softer “Caroline”, and the screaming rock tracks “Heal It Up” and “Still In Hollywood”.

The disc also includes the band’s aforementioned cover of Leonard Cohen‘s “Everybody Knows” – which was originally featured on the soundtrack to Pump Up The Volume – as well as a live acoustic cover of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedez Bends”.

Buy the CD or Mp3s

Soundtrack: Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man

The soundtrack to the documentary Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man features classic songs written by Leonard Cohen performed live during a concert called “Came So Far For Beauty: An Evening Of Leonard Cohen Songs”. Among the performers are Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Nick Cave, Beth Orton, Antony (of the Johnsons), Jarvis Cocker, The Handsome Family, and Mr. Cohen himself with U2. There aren’t many songwriters like Leonard Cohen, and this collection of covers is a grand encomium to his enormous talent.

Martha Wainwright starts it up with a throaty, wailing rendition of “Tower of Song”. Nick Cave churns out a swaggering cabaret of “I’m Your Man”. Kate & Anna McGarrigle join Martha Wainwright to form an angelic choir on “Winter Lady”.

While I prefer Serena Ryder‘s more melodic interpretation of “Sisters Of Mercy”, Beth Orton gives an earnestly solemn performance of it here. Though “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” are my favourite Cohen songs, it’s “Sisters of Mercy” that contains my best-loved Leonard lyric – “if your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn, they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem”.

I was pleasantly surprised by Rufus Wainwright’s semisweet rendering of “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”. If only he showed off that astounding vocal range more often. Speaking of astounding voices, I truly believe that Antony‘s quivering voice could fill any song with depth and heartache. His cover of “If It Be Your Will” is no exception.

The Handsome Family take on “Famous Blue Raincoat” isn’t bad, but it pales in comparison to the original or even the cover by Tori Amos. Rufus Wainwright’s nasal performance on “Everybody Knows” could neither compete with the Cohen version nor the Concrete Blonde cover, but the new arrangement is saucy enough to keep it interesting.

Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen give a soulful presentation of “Anthem” before the bottomless voice of the man himself Leonard Cohen is paired with the electronic pop-rock of U2 for the finale “Tower Of Song”.

Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man Official Site
Buy the CD