Monday, March 24, 2008

“An’ for every hung up person in the whole wide universe”

It's a mighty long time since another side of Bob Dylan had us gaze upon the chimes of freedom flashing. Decades, too, since there was blood on the tracks. The “idiot wind”, though, is still blowing like a circle around our skulls.

Allison Crowe is a new truth-seeker. She’s a writer of social conscience. One who believes in the power of music.

“To sing is to love and affirm, to fly and soar, to coast into the hearts of the people who listen, to tell them that life is to live, that love is there, that nothing is a promise, but that beauty exists, and must be hunted for and found,” wrote Joan Baez, musician and plenty more, when she was near the same age Allison Crowe is now.

’t’is high purpose, evermore today, “as we replace marble with plastic”.

The body of work this young Canadian artist is creating is remarkable and varied. Through a repertoire numbering dozens of original songs, she’s fulfilling her stated raison d’etre, making music that is "Soulful. Alive. Joyous. Grievous. Real. True.”

In a concert review this month, Jan DeGrass of the Coast Reporter notes: “In another piece, Crowe savaged the piano with a fierceness that turned our spines to noodles. The song was dedicated to a woman who gave a classical piano performance seen on YouTube only to find that her web audience offered tasteless and ignorant jokes in return. Don’t sugar coat it, Allison.”

No Mother Hubbard soft soap here. The song, Disease, is always riveting social commentary. (Even serving as inspiration to an online discussion of ‘great art’ and the elements of creation.) While unchanged lyrically, the song has grown more steeled musically through its life and release: “Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind.”

Captured in its raging glory, serendipitously on International Women's Day, March 8, 2008, also a fun date of Turtle Recording Studios 20th Anniversary Party in White Rock, B.C., Canada - by Engineer and Producer, Turtle's Larry Anschell - and Co-engineered by Brad Graham:


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Monday, March 10, 2008

Hallelujah Leonard Cohen

With his induction tonight into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame it seems a fitting time to rise from Winter hibernation and say thanks to Leonard Cohen for his songs.

Working with Allison Crowe, I've come, particularly, to witness the power of "Hallelujah". It's not the most covered of Cohen's songs - that would be "Suzanne" or "Marianne" - though, it's certainly the most potent in today's cultural context.

Two versions have been released on disc by the writer himself, a shorter lyric on 1984's "Various Positions", and a longer version recorded in 1988 and released in 1994 on his "Cohen Live" album. It's generally acknowledged that John Cale, with his version (of the shorter lyrics "Hallelujah"), on the 1991 I'm Your Fan Cohen tribute album, established the form that most performers have since followed in their interpretations.

For the 1994 release of Jeff Buckley's album "Grace", famed mixer Andy Wallace (Run DMC, Aerosmith, Nirvana +), in the role of producer, reportedly took three of the 21 or so takes recorded by Buckley, and blended them together into a seamless whole that, for the next decade, served as the song's most public representation.

In 2002, the Hollywood movie Shrek was released, and its huge popularity brought "Hallelujah" to a much broader audience, including children. In the movie itself, one hears John Cale's rendition of the song. The movie's soundtrack CD contains a version recorded by Rufus Wainwright.

The next year, Allison Crowe first recorded the song - for a six songs, EP, version of her "Tidings" song collection. This "Hallelujah" was recorded live, in a single, first, take. Allison was recovering from ill health, and, in a darkened studio, would perform a song, then, sip warm water or tea, and record the next. It happens that the recording of the two videos online of her performing "Hallelujah" also took place in real time. The "Tidings" Fan Club video is posted earlier in this blog, so, here, now, is the live recording of "Hallelujah" made Inside Pandora's Box - a CHUM television studio in Victoria, B.C., Canada. This performance forms part of the tv special that's aired each year since 2003 across Canada during the Christmas holiday season.

"I love singing Hallelujah. It's such an awesome song. I just feel humbled, " says Allison.

I imagine that's how most feel about this glorious song. It's a gift from Leonard Cohen to artists and audience alike.

With the internet revolution, forums such as YouTube are becoming a conduit for music in the folk tradition. Lyrics and chords can now be shared and learned by people all over the globe - with immediacy. It's akin to a global campfire singalong.

Since the slow-burning, cult-status, days of "Hallelujah", the embrace of the song has been ignited, and, accelerated via mp3 blogs, podcasts, home videos and more online. Added to more recordings by mainstream, label, acts - including kd lang, Brandi Carlile, and Bon Jovi - this Leonard Cohen song, once a cabaret standard, is now a popular standard. (It's even a staple of the "Idol" pop franchise, perhaps facilitated by licensing associations - it's been performed on Australian Idol, Swedish Idol, Canadian Idol, and, just last week, by American Idol contestant Jason Castro.)

I've noticed, too, that there appears to be at least half-a-dozen performers who claim this as their "signature" song. The fans of some acts are extremely partisan and protective of their own chosen idols. Taking the big view, however, it's the song that ennobles the singer, and not the other way 'round.

Hallelujah Leonard Cohen.

(BTW, Allison includes a couple of other Cohen-penned songs in her repertoire: "Joan of Arc", and "Tonight Will Be Fine". Of the pair, so far, she's recorded only "Joan of Arc" - for her Secrets album.)

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