Allison Russell: Outside Child
Allison Russell is the lead singer of Birds of Chicago, a project she helms with her husband, songwriter and guitarist JT Nero. On her first solo album, Russell and Nero continue co-writing the material, but they leave their folk-based sound behind in favor of a more polished, soulful pop/R&B approach. The lyrics Russell penned for this album are chillingly auto – biographical, dealing with the abuse she faced as a child and the way that experience shaped her life and art. The ambient, low-key arrangements have a haunting presence that intensifies Russell’s confessional vocals. “4th Day Prayer” has a rhythm that’s half Motown, half gospel. Russell softly describes the abuse she endured, while a female chorus supplies wordless harmonies. The lyrics meld Biblical references with her own harrowing experiences. “The Runner” is a mid-tempo rocker that celebrates the moment she let the music take over her soul. A mix of quiet organ and subtle electric guitar licks play off of backing vocals, suggesting the comfort music and religion can provide. The lyrics to “All the Women” are based on the work Russell did with homeless girls after she began the process of her own healing. Some stunning, wordless gospel harmonies and Russell’s anguished singing are set against an ominous backing track of ambient percussive sound. “Joyful Mother – fuckers” is a hushed duet with her husband Nero. Two voices and an acoustic guitar offer a prayer of forgiveness for her father’s brutality and a hymn to the soothing love of her spouse and extended family. The tone of the album is finely balanced between the grief of lost innocence and the salvation Russell found in music, art and motherhood. It’s an inspiring achievement.