Allison Crowe: Newfoundland Vinyl (Rubenesque Records, 2013)
Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Crowe's new album, Newfoundland Vinyl, was originally created for a local theatrical production for which she was the Musical Director and intended to represent 200 years of music popular in Newfoundland. Yet its true scope is so much broader. It plays like a lovely, vintage collection of traditional Irish and Canadian folk ballads, lively sea chanteys and drinking songs, parlour songs and country tunes with surprising retro, girl-pop harmonies woven throughout. The album is full of dazzling melody and such a unique charm. And Allison's voice is so strong and spectacular, I'm afraid Foxygen has fierce competition here for my favorite album of the year.
It's appropriate that Newfoundland Vinyl is Allison Crowe's first vinyl LP, as a more classic album has rarely been recorded. The limited edition, 180-gram vinyl LP is currently only being stocked at select locations in Canada, but is available worldwide in digital format through all the usual online outlets. That is how I'm listening for this review, as I just couldn't wait for the vinyl to arrive. What an exquisite, unusual collection. What a voice, what a voice, what a voice!
Allison released Newfoundland Vinyl on her own independent label, Rubenesque Records on June 25, 2013. I'm starting to think Allison Crowe's DIY folk style is Canada's answer to Ani Difranco, or perhaps more accurately Anaïs Mitchell since the theater-to-album story of Newfoundland Vinyl is very similar to that of Hadestown. But I digress.
Allison also arranged, produced, engineered and performed the entire album herself -- including all of the intricately layered harmonies in which her singular, extraordinary voice mimics a backing choir of singers. I was truly shocked to learn that bit of information, as it sounds as if she has several different singers accompanying her.
The opener "Black Velvet Band" and "The Men Who Die For a Living" are among my favorite tracks.
"The Black Velvet Band" is a traditional Irish ballad about a man's chance encounter with a girl, which leads to his arrest and transport as a prisoner to Australia. The Dubliners may have recorded one of the more famous renditions of the song, but Allison's is the most stunning version I've heard and just may become the definitive version (as her cover of "Hallelujah" has) over time.
"The Men Who Die For a Living" is a haunting ode to miners and their families that is universally powerful -- whether you live in the mining territories of Newfoundland, Appalachia or elsewhere.
"Easy," which plumbs the depths of Allison's voice, has a more mellow, classic pop-folk sound and was a 1979 country hit for Canadian singer Eddie Eastman, so it's a perfect fit for the album's vinyl theme.
Also of note is the fun, funny, rollicking drinking song "Skipper Billy's Wake." It's one of the more uptempo and humorous songs on the album.
The lilting finale "Sweet Forget Me Not" is another splendid showcase of the album's pretty, multi-layered harmonies.
This is one of those gorgeous albums that you love more with every single listen and I never thought Allison could make an album that I would love more than Live at Wood Hall, but indeed she has.
Newfoundland Vinyl is my new favorite Allison Crowe album, possibly my favorite album of the year and just may be on its way to becoming one of my favorite albums of all time. It has the timeless beauty of a classic folk album.