A lot of sites are posting about Kurt Cobain today, 20 years after his death. Of those I’ve read, I find Time’s the most interesting since it has quotes from members of Soundgarden, Weezer and The Roots about Nirvana. I hadn’t planned to write anything myself for the same reason I didn’t review the 20th anniversary edition of In Utero…that icky feeling of capitalizing on a tragedy. But the significance of today and the memories it evokes are much stronger than any misgivings I felt before, so here we go…
I was a high school freshman 20 years ago and I, along with most of my classmates, was in love with everything connected to Grunge. I dyed my hair black, raided my brother’s and grandfather’s closets for old flannel shirts and traded mixtapes with friends made up of songs by Temple of the Dog, Tool, Pearl Jam and, of course, Nirvana. We all watched their videos on MTV with an almost religious fervor and had excited debates about their music in between (and sometimes during) classes.
Previous generations remembered where they were when Kennedy was shot and we all know where we were on 9/11. But, in between, I always remembered the moment when MTV News announced Kurt Cobain was dead. I was home sick from school that week watching our huge, ancient living room television and that’s where I stayed for days, glued to the news coverage in a way that was unusual in those pre-24-hour-news days. I cried as Courtney Love read her husband’s suicide note to a crowd of his fans.
Across the sea in Ireland the same day, Brendan heard the news on Irish radio. Which in itself is kind of amazing considering it was such a different time in music, in life, then. Long before the internet connected everything and everyone and gave local bands a worldwide audience. It was somewhat of a miracle at that time for the Seattle music scene and subsequently Cobain’s death to make such an international impact. Or maybe it wasn’t. There certainly hasn’t been anything since that sounds like this….
To celebrate today’s release of her new album, Heavy Graces, Allison Crowe is sharing her cover of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man.” The video, which you can watch below, features footage from the classic silent film Broken Blossoms. In case you missed my rave review of the album yesterday, you can download a free, legal mp3 of the track “Words,” view other videos and stream the entire album in that post.
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.