Thursday, April 29, 2010

Children’s Crystal Palace Marches on London, May 1, to Hallelujahs

This Saturday we’ll know how many Hallelujahs it takes to fill the Albert Memorial with sounds celebrating one of history’s great buildings and flights of imagination.

At high noon on May 1, a few hundred yards from the Marble Arch, in London’s Hyde Park, John Greatrex and his team will construct a miniature model of the Crystal Palace – out of more than one thousand empty cassette and CD cases decorated by local schoolchildren.

This event coincides with the opening day of the latest World Expo in Shanghai and commemorates the 159th anniversary of the opening of the Great Exhibition in London (The First World Expo). Handel's “Hallelujah Chorus” marked the opening back in 1851, and this weekend, it will be heard again, and joined by Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as performed by Canada’s Allison Crowe (the recording from her album/CD “Tidings”.)

The original Crystal Palace is considered the world’s first theme park, described in its day as "a fairy palace within a wall of glass and iron". The iconic structure housed elaborate fountains, fine art courts, replicas of Egyptian colossi, and, even, models of pterodactyls. It captured the world’s imagination for over 90 years while standing, and, after being entirely destroyed by fire in 1936, shines on - a crazy diamond in literature and art – gaining mention in works varied as those of: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground” and “Crime and Punishment”; Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”; and the Tori Amos song “Winter”.

Greatrex, an historian and a founder of the Crystal Palace Foundation, was a member of the British Athletics Team in the 1970s. His goal now is to build a “Children’s Crystal Palace” exhibition for London’s 2012 Olympics to represent the “marriage of sport and art” in the spirit of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, godfather of the modern Olympics. From 1912 to 1948 medals were awarded at the Olympics for athletics, architecture, sculpture, painting, music and literature.

With an actual Olympic torch from London’s 1948 Games, which relayed the flame lit in Athens, John Greatrex is pacing things toward 2012’s pavilion. He envisions a structure in the shape of the Crystal Palace, six metres wide, 18 metres long, and 4.5 metres high. Light will stream in the many glass windows, each ‘stained’ by young people, from schools, sporting groups and/or solo to create the effect of “walking through a child’s kaleidoscope”.

Earlier this month, the New York Times’ Rob Walker reported on the trend of cassette tapes and cases appearing increasingly in today’s pop culture. The smaller-scale palace being constructed this weekend in London, England, represents an ambitious and whimsical use of the medium.

Says John Greatrex: “At 12noon on 1st May 2010 the Cubs and Scouts of the 1st Crystal Palace Patrol will be building the Children's Crystal Palace on the steps of the Albert Memorial under the watchful eyes of the larger than life golden gilded Happy Prince - Albert The Good.”

Allison Crowe, the free-spirited musician and songwriter from both of Canada’s coasts, wishes the troupe great fun right out of the blocks. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is an awesome song, loved by singers and audiences, and its global embrace, which has only intensified since Crowe recorded it for her “Tidings” album in 2003, is one of popular music’s most legendary.

Of the song’s covers, UK-based culture blog, “We Write Lists”, commented last month: “There are dozens of entries to this catalogue, and to list them all in any form of detail would fill an afternoon both for you and I. It's easy to skip over so many of the inferior versions, more difficult to ignore those by Rufus Wainwright, kd lang or Kathryn Williams. Only one version remains impossible to ignore, however.

Allison Crowe is perhaps renowned a little too much around these parts. She is considered consistently magnificent - a burden on talent nobody should be given. Nevertheless, her cover of 'Hallelujah' is simply stunning, and remains one of my favourite covers of all time. Taking, as ever, inspiration from (John) Cale's style of the song, Crowe throws in more soul and sadness than any one person should be capable of. In Crowe's hands, the song has as much majesty as Cohen could ever have conveyed, as much sadness as the (Jeff) Buckley version and as beautiful instrumentation - though completely original, and even more sparsely terrific - as (Regina) Spektor or (Rufus) Wainwright or anyone else you may care to mention. Simply, a song so beautiful has never been sung so beautifully.”

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hands Across the Water

Spiral, Allison Crowe's newest album of music is starting to reach the world.

<a href="">Dearly by Allison Crowe</a>

As Spiraling joy ensues, it's an especially fun time to reflect on how we got here, and what it all means.

Drawing from the well-spring, this week a pair of UK web-based features:

Straight-outta-Nottingham, soon-to-be-in-London-town, Swiftian culture-blogger and novel-writer, Stephen Thomas invites Allison to guest-post for the next six weeks.

We Write Lists Presents: Six Albums with Allison Crowe

Thomas explains to his audience:

"Over the past four years or so I have spoken a great deal of Allison Crowe, whether it be on blogs, to friends, to family members or anyone else stupid enough to tune into my opinions. So, in many ways, the posts that will appear every Saturday for the next six weeks are a real coup here at WWL. A few months back I was fortunate enough to have Franz Nicolay, formerly of The Hold Steady, to write up a guest post on his favourite six albums. Recently I asked the same of Allison Crowe and she kindly obliged. Now, as the result either of her (obvious) passion for music or her recently freed-up schedule (Thanks, Eyjafjallajöjull!) Allison has written us enough of her insightful takes on the music that inspired her to secure a spot as a regular contributor for the next six weeks, during which we'll share her written offerings one album at a time! So, over to Allison:"

Allison, whose musical roots first planted in classical and jazz, took the challenge. For the next six weeks, she talks about those albums that formed the soundtrack to a pivotal period in her life ~ when, she says, "my personality and life’s choices were truly being forged and molded - beyond childhood but not yet adult - with plenty of naïvety and an equal amount of life experience."

Tune in to this We Write Lists serial special. (Not to be confused with a special cereal - that would be something like Cap'n Crunch - with decoder ring in the box. Though, these things may not be so far apart...)

From Inverness, the Scottish Highlands, and now back home in Edinburgh is musician, photo-journalist and more, Shona McMillan.

Editing together old cine films shot by her family in the 1960s, McMillan has created this lovely, evocative reflection and meditation:

For the soundtrack to her "Home Reflections", Shona has chosen Allison's recording of, too-soon-gone-from-this-world, singer-songwriter Phil Ochs' "When I'm Gone".

On her YouTube channel, she recounts the film's story, and notes:

"In 2007, I met the singer of the song - Allison Crowe when we both performed in Durness at the John Lennon festival. Later, when she did another gig in Edinburgh, Allison sang this song and absolutely blew me away with her performance and the intensity of the lyrics. Having just lost my mum to cancer, less than 12 months before, I said to Allison that her singing had captured for me the incredible need I felt to do things 'NOW'. She gave me her CD as a gift "Allison Crowe Little Light" and amongst the many other beautiful songs on it - this remains for me the most special. A song which has often helped to motivate me in my uphill personal challenge to produce my own People and Songs of the Sea multi-media heritage project (recording fisher folk from Edinburgh to Eyemouth in thousands of photos, audio and most recently film). The lyrics of the song here - they so greatly inspire me and yes they can be sad but also, they encourage true reflection and appreciation of the value of time. All of us have just 24hrs in each day, it can seem a lot at the time but, when we look back on a life lived and now gone - we see how very precious time was and is. We see that a Life is made up, shaped and built by all the little choices we make over the hours, days, weeks and years that we live. The ways in which we choose to spend our time are surely the most important, on-going decisions we make throughout the days of our lives."

Shona McMillan wraps up: "How very precious time is. Indeed, I recall my mum's favourite saying which was the philosophy by which she tried to live her life:

'I pass this way but once, any good that I can do - Let Me - for I may not pass this way again'."

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, April 19, 2010

Volcanic talents erupt with Spiral: Allison Crowe’s rock and roll providence

The road less-travelled is proving, both, essential and fruitful for the music and audience of Allison Crowe. Steering clear of the corporate and indie mainstream frees the Canadian-born musician to earn a singular place as one of today’s most exciting songwriters and performers. All over the world, Crowe’s success is founded on emotional resonance - not promotional dollars and cents.

Dutch culture blog “File Under” notes: “Music is a necessity according to Allison Crowe and this is clearly apparent in the intensity of the way she sings and plays piano. To ensure artistic freedom and following one of her inspirations Ani DiFranco, she started her own label Rubenesque Records in 2003 on which she’s already released two EP's and six albums.”

April 17 has musical lineage as birth-date of The Buzzcock’s Pete Shelley, and Tool’s Maynard James Keenan. The Band (formerly The Hawks) performed their first concert on April 17, 1969. Exactly one year later, Paul McCartney's debut solo album, "McCartney", was released. This April 17, coinciding with Record Store Day, Allison Crowe’s “Spiral” album was released on CD.

“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,” says Muruch, a blog with roots in America and branches across the world of arts and entertainment.

”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?’ ’’

"I Found You" - one of two original oil-paintings by Tara Thelen, Bergen, NL-based artist, featured on Allison Crowe's "Spiral" CD cover

1 Heck of a Guy” author, Allan Showalter, (also U.S.-based and international in cultural scope), reports being: “Joyfully Caught In Allison Crowe's ‘Spiral’."

“Having spent most of the past two days playing and replaying the Allison Crowe ‘Spiral’ CD, I’ve come to certain conclusions:

1. ‘Spiral’ is an outstanding album. That’s hardly a surprise. The album features a great voice, great song selections, and great arrangements. What’s not to like?

2. Listening to the CD renders an already obvious point unavoidable:
newcomers to Allison Crowe should be granted access to her music only on the condition that their first experience is listening to an entire album. Don’t get me wrong – there are several tracks that would, in the era of 45 rpm records, have qualified as hit singles. But, listening to a song or two from ‘Spiral’ is impressive; listening to the entire album in one sitting is overwhelming – in a good way.

3. The ‘Spiral’ CD not only sounds right, it looks right and feels right. Having owned too many of the same albums in too many conformations, including vinyl records, cassettes, 8-tracks, reel-to-reel recordings, CDs, and downloaded files with any number of suffixes (MP3, WAV, AIFF, AU, FLAC, AAC, MPEG-4, WMA, …), I am rarely swayed by format nostalgia, but in this case, the physical CD itself seems a better fit to the album than invisible computer files. It is especially gratifying to discover that the art and the gatefold design evokes the sense of those albums I bought in the 1960s and 1970s when examining the graphics, reading the liner notes, and considering their implications vis-à-vis the music inside was an essential element in listening to that new record (see graphic below; click on image for best viewing).

The concern shown in this quality of design reflects parallel concerns and respect for the music and for the buyer’s experience.”

Spiral”, Allison Crowe’s seventh CD release, is now available in record stores from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland, Canada (incl. Nanaimo, B.C’s Fascinating Rhythm and Lobelia's Lair; on Salt Spring Island at Acoustic Planet Music and Salt Spring Sound; in Victoria, B.C. come to Lyle's Place; in Vancouver, visit Zulu Records; in Newfoundland drop by Fred's Records in St. John's), and online at, eBay, CD Baby, MapleMusic,, iTunes, eMusic, Fishpond and many more fine sites.

Due to the lively nature of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which has sent a cloud of ash over Europe, (one that has now reached the east coast of Newfoundland, Canada), concert dates of Allison Crowe for this month in Aachen, Paris, Frankfurt and Berlin are being rescheduled to combine with shows in Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and other locations for a grand European tour this Fall.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Spiral's "work of art" greets Record Store Day - April 17, 2010

Allison Crowe's newest album, "Spiral", gets physical, physical, this month - with its CD release on April 17. The album was released digitally on March 17, St. Patrick's Day.

There was an abundance of gold, silver and bronze in February, when Canada hosted the Olympics. Since then, printers have been sourcing a supply of the special metallic dyes needed for the album cover art of "Spiral".

This process happily enables Crowe's newest CD release to coincide with international Record Store Day. "Spiral" is now available at Fascinating Rhythm, in Nanaimo, B.C. - one of the five favourite record stores 'cross Canada for Stuart McLean, raconteur extraordinaire, host of CBC Radio's "The Vinyl Cafe." "Spiral" will soon be in Lobelia's Lair in Nanaimo, Lyle's Place in Victoria, Zulu Records in Vancouver, BC, and, on Canada's Atlantic coast, fred's records on Duckworth Street in St. John's, Newfoundland - and more.

" 'Spiral' is a true work of art," writes Jeff Taylor, video-game programmer and multi-blogger from Canada. "The album is amazing, and will certainly be a top contender for album of the year."

"Spiral" is the seventh album/CD release from Allison Crowe. "This is an astonishingly gifted artist working in a class by herself," says Tom Mureika, writer for All Music Guide and other North American-based culture sites. ParisVoice, English language journal for folks who call home the city of Piaf and Charles Aznavour, says: "expressing emotion is where Allison Crowe excels. Whether covering other artists... or performing her own songs... each track becomes alive and palpable."

On April 17th, Spiral greets Record Store Day. That same day Allison Crowe flies to Europe to launch a series of concerts in Aachen, Paris, Frankfurt and Berlin.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,