Sunday, January 31, 2010

Both Hands

Today, as pioneering musician Janis Ian is joined in a march forward by such high profile recording acts as Radiohead and Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Ani DiFranco’s DIY beacon shines ever-bright.

Asked “Why music?”, Allison Crowe responds: “Why breathing?”

Just as naturally, the Canadian musician embraces DiFranco’s truth: “If you are disgustingly sincere and terribly diligent, there are ways for any serious artist to operate outside the corporate structure.”

Which makes it really about the music. Best-known for her piano music, one of the first guitar songs Allison Crowe performed on-stage was the Ani DiFranco song “Both Hands”. Fortunately, Nanaimo, B.C.’s Scott Littlejohn was on hand to record this moment live (in 2004).

“The one person who really knows me best says I’m like a cat…” ~ ‘Virtue’, Ani DiFranco

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32 Flavors

Ani DiFranco ~ "songwriter, musicmaker, storyteller, freak".

In 1989/90, years before digital/online technology helped light up the terrain, Buffalo-based DiFranco was showing us how DIY is done. In creating her own label, Righteous Babe Records, and charting a path that includes loyalty and integrity as touchstones, "the little folksinger that could" - did!

"I don't think the music industry is conducive to artistic and social change and growth. It does a lot to exploit and homogenize art and artists. In order to challenge the corporate music industry, I feel it necessary to remain outside it. I could be selling a lot more albums. Life could be a lot more cushy. But it's much more interesting to try and hammer out an alternative route without the music industry and maybe be an example for other musicians. You don't have to play ball," notes Ani DiFranco.

Major inspiration to Allison Crowe, who created her own label, Rubenesque Records Ltd., (about to release a seventh CD/album since 2003), the music of Ani DiFranco is a cherished feature of Crowe's live performances.

Heres Ani's song "32 Flavors" performed by Allison (vocals, piano) and Dave Baird (bass), and Kevin Clevette (drums) live at Lucky Bar, Victoria, Canada in 2001. One of the earliest live recordings of Crowe, it's first captured by Condor, and later engineered by Welsh audio-tech David Powell.

The image of Allison Crowe is by the ever fabulous photog Billie Woods.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

This Little Bird

Canada's Allison Crowe, on piano and vocals, lays down another song track with Dave Baird on bass and Laurent Boucher on percussion. ("This Little Bird", on the album of the same name, a song that playfully celebrates freedom, makes me think of other such innocent fun as The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night".)

While she puts together her next album, Im riffing through a batch of photos of Allison just stumbled upon, and picking up other cultural footnotes.

Conan OBrien, American comedian and late-night television host, now a free bird, gave a moving farewell in signing off 'The Tonight Show'. After thanking his fans for coming together to make a sad situation joyous and inspirational, 'Coco' addressed his audience, directing these words particularly to young people watching:

"All I ask is one thing... Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it's my least favorite quality. It doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you. It's just true."

This calls for more... cowbell.

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My Mom was always fond of saying, "Never delay a kindness". Words to live by.

Someone who takes that maxim to heart, and print, is the mysterious Dr. Heck Guy - blogger behind the highly erudite and even more entertaining Heck of a Guy: "A pastiche of posts, featuring song, dance, snappy chatter plus notes on prose, poesy, love, lust, life, and beyond".

With a new album creation on the home stretch, I've been in the position of pulling together items from past and present, in the process gaining new perspective and, further, a deepened appreciation of Allison Crowe's immense artistry and integrity.

It buoys my spirits to know that the music she creates inspires people all over this world, and, as one example, here's the latest from that online articulator song and dance, DrHGuy:

Must-hear Allison Crowe Cover Of John Sebastian's Darling Be Home Soon

I happened onto this video of Allison Crowe, the Canadian singer-songwriter and icon-in-training, performing her uniquely gorgeous version of "Darling Be Home Soon," a classic pop – in the best sense of “pop” – tune and couldn’t go to sleep without posting it first.

Written by John Sebastian (as were ” “Do You Believe in Magic”, “Summer in the City”, “Daydream,” “Nashville Cats,” “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” “Six O’Clock,” “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice,” and “Younger Girl”), "Darling Be Home Soon" was popularized by The Lovin' Spoonful, Sebastian’s band, in 1967. I hereby proudly confess to being a long-time admirer (since before 1967) of Mr. Sebastian and The Lovin' Spoonful.1

Crowe’s luscious, sometimes almost lascivious vocalizations match up surprisingly well with the delightfulness, a Sebastian trademark (nobody does delightful like John Sebastian), that pervades "Darling Be Home Soon" to produce an irresistibly enjoyable, profoundly satisfying performance.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Darling Be Home Soon

Allison Crowe's trio perform "Darling Be Home Soon", a song penned by the great American songwriter and musician John Sebastian - and which was a hit for The Lovin' Spoonful in 1967 and performed solo at Woodstock in '69.

These days Sebastian, composer of numerous classic songs - beautiful and playful - is still busy, making jug band music. "It seems to make him feel just fine..."

Crowe, who engineered and recorded this track for her album, "This Little Bird", is accompanied here by Dave Baird on bass and Laurent Boucher on percussion.

The b/w photo of Allison Crowe and her darling is by Billie Woods.

Darling Be Home Soon

Words & Music by John Sebastian
As performed by Allison Crowe

And talk of all the things we did today

And laugh about our funny little ways
While we have a few minutes to breathe
Then I know that it's time you must leave

But darling be home soon
I couldn't bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling be home soon
It's not just these few hours but I've been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to

And now
A quarter of my life is almost past
I think I've come to see myself at last
And I see that the time spent confused
Was the time that I spent without you
And I feel myself in bloom

So darling be home soon
I couldn't bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling be home soon
It's not just these few hours but I've been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to

Darling be home soon
I couldn't bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling be home soon
It's not just these few hours but I've been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to

And beat your crazy head against the sky
And see beyond the houses and your eyes
It's ok to shoot the moon

So darling
My darling be home soon
I couldn't bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled

My darling be home soon
It's not just these few hours but I've been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to


Friday, January 22, 2010

Islander scores in L.A.

As I am immersed in details of Allison Crowe's upcoming album, it's a pleasure to read other folks' writings - and, here be a piece on Kayla Schmah, film and tv composer, and record producer, Kayla, in between scoring for a 70-piece orchestra on a major motion picture, and other projects in Hollywood, is working on "Spiral" with Allison:

Islander scores in L.A.

De Niro, Pacino film among Saltspring composer's first Hollywood gigs

By Mike Devlin, Times Colonist January 13, 2010

If composer Kayla Schmah had her way, it would be 1960 and she'd be Bernard Hermann, scoring with a huge orchestra films of the highest quality.

The only problem? "My dream is something I believe is long-dead in Hollywood," laughed Schmah, a native of Saltspring Island now living in Los Angeles.

"But there's ways to adapt our dreams now. You can still find great films and do scaled-down versions of live instruments and still write a great score."

Schmah, 25, longs for the freedom given to composers such as Hermann, the man behind the music for Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane and numerous Alfred Hitchcock films, including Psycho. They had the tools to die for: Decent budgets, big orchestras and the ability to pick and choose projects based on quality alone.

That will come in time for Schmah and her husband, fellow film and television composer Kyle Batter. The couple is relatively new to Los Angeles; they moved to Tinseltown, a notoriously tough city to crack, in 2006 so it's slow going thus far. They also have a nine-month-old son, Wyatt, so the couple's focus is on family at the moment.

"The thing about Hollywood, it's a time investment," Schmah said. "A lot of us haven't been out here long enough to have gotten in-depth [with the movie industry]."

Schmah has done extremely well thus far, all things considered. After graduating from Saltspring's Gulf Island Secondary School in 2001, she enrolled at Selkirk College in Nelson, where she spent two years in a transfer program. She landed next at Boston's Berklee College of Music, one of the most prestigious -- and productive -- music schools in the U.S., whose alumni include Diana Krall, John Mayer, Quincy Jones and Melissa Etheridge.

Almost immediately, she put her degree in film scoring to good use. She has worked alone and as understudy and assistant to veteran composers such as Michael Levine and Edward Shearmur. A quartet of feature film jobs alongside Emmy-winner Shearmur, including scoring work on the Al Pacino-Robert De Niro film Righteous Kill, was Schmah's entry into the movie world.

There's a feeling of satisfaction from film composing that Schmah never got from playing, she said, despite having studied through the Royal Conservatory of Music during elementary and junior high school.

Film and tv composer Kayla Schmah also worked last year on Allison Crowe's upcoming album, Spiral.

"Composing drew me in more than performing did. I've always been a nervous performer. I took a lot of conducting at Berklee and even that makes me nervous, so film scoring was the perfect route for me."

Despite a tiny budget, she scored 2008's Disfigured almost entirely by herself, and as close to the Hermann way as possible -- with a full string section during sessions at the legendary Capitol Studios in L.A.

That was a rare treat, she said. These days, only composers on par with Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, James Horner and John Williams -- with a total of 81 Oscar nominations between them -- can do that, day in and day out, to a much greater degree and with a far bigger budget.

The majority of Schmah's work is done at her home studio, which enables her to be close to her son. Schmah and Batter (who has written music for CSI and Ghost Whisperer) share the space. Scheduling is beginning to become more of
a problem, as they continue to make connections.

Last year, she heard from two longtime friends, Nanaimo-raised songwriter Allison Crowe and her manager, Adrian Du Plessis, with an offer to write and arrange parts of Crowe's upcoming album, Spiral.

Schmah, who interned with Du Plessis when she was a teen, worked long-distance with Crowe on strings parts and various orchestration, massaging the finished tracks "and melding them into my own thing, while still keeping her style intact," Schmah said.

After the birth of her son, it was a nice reintroduction to singer-songwriter music. And that it came from connections fostered long ago made it all the more meaningful.

"Ninety-five per cent of my work has come through connections," Schmah said.

"People always say it's the right place at the right time, but it's actually right friend at the right time."

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

These Words

"These Words", this song from Allison Crowe, debuted on the 300th episode of Accident Hash - part of the fifth anniversary celebrations for the much-loved music podcast of Boston's new media maven C.C. Chapman.

To mark the occasion, Ewan Spence, Edinburgh-based blogger, podcaster of comedy, music (including the TPN Rock podcast) and more, rallied the online community of CC's family, friends and fans, known as "Homefries", and brought together content for a special show today (January 10, 2010).

"These Words" is among a collection of songs that Allison has gathered together for release this New Year. This single track will be followed by the release of her seventh album/CD, "Spiral", in early 2010.

The image accompanying the music in this video is a detail from Gaston Bussiere's painting - Joan of Arc - Jeanne d'Arc.

Here's a view of the full painting:

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