Allison Russell will be a megastar very soon and she deserves it.
Russell, a musician and original songwriter, has the ability to influence people’s thoughts and emotions through her impressively strong vocal cords and she proved that at Cistern Yard on June 1st.
Under the trees and cute yellow lights, Russell brought the audience together after a warm day in Charleston. In the middle of a festival where everyone has seen a lot of different shows at the venue for the past few nights, everyone was cheering and whistling at the stage. She seems to have lifted everyone’s spirit and filled hearts with fabulous joy.
“We need to practice our active, active love all together,” she said.
The Montrealer performed for one night only at Spoleto Festival USA. Her concert lasted 75 minutes and she sang with her five members of all-female band that included sisters violinist Chauntee Ross and cellist Monique Ross, cellist Larissa Maestro, Mandy Fer on the electric guitar and Elizabeth Goodfellow on the drums.
Russell opened the show by playing the clarinet. Her bandmates followed her, starting with the song “Hy-Brasil” from her three-time Grammy-nominated debut solo album “Outside Child.” Her hypnotic melodies pulled the audience in right away with meditative sounds that made one fall into a dream-like state, like a trance.
And then Russell started singing and there was immediately nothing like it. Her soulful voice is unique. It’s somewhat the meeting between Alanis Morisette, Norah Jones and Alicia Keys in a way but it also has this comforting feeling that feels motherly and protective that makes one feel so safe and cared for.
“Seven black rabbits of Hy-Brasil. Twenty-one petals of daffodils. Thirteenth note of the blackcap trill. I’ll fly home today,” she sang.
Her voice took over the Cistern Yard: one could hear the sound enter their body. The audience vibrated along with it.
Then, she brought us her original song “Persephone.’”
“Blood on my shirt, two ripped buttons. Might’ve killed me that time, oh, if I’d let him. He’s slow when he’s drunk, and he lost his grip on me,” said the first lyrics.
This was definitely a more energetic song, but still dark. Russell doesn’t hide from talking about tragic and serious stuff—in her show she talks about slavery, domestic violence (like in the song above) and gun violence. Before she sings the song “Kathy” from the group Po’ Girl, Russell talks about her mother who suffered at the hands of an abusive partner who is now in prison.
“Kathy please don’t be so quiet now,” Russell sings for her mother. “Kathy where’d the music go. Why’d you let him steal your joy. Why’d you let him still your fingers. It’s time to get up, time to get up in the morning. And start playing, start playing.”
As entertaining and pulling as she is with her incredible talent, the topics of her songs make Russell stand out from the large crowd of musicians and singers. Her lyrics are often raw deep and unapologetic.
Russell is not shy or embarrassed when it comes to tragedy or trauma. Her words touch on both with vivid and raw details. But she’s also not forceful with her opinions or statements. She delivers it all with beautiful grace and honorable humility. Yet, she is stunningly powerful and a pulling force: one wants to listen and hear everything she has to say. This is why she’ll become a star.
“We have lost too many,” she then tells the audience in a speech. In between her songs, Russell gives strong statements about life and about the entire human race. It is not at all too much, it feels rational and true.
“I do not believe that this is a curse that we cannot break, I believe in us… We are the ones we have been waiting for,” she said. “Break the cycle of violence and bigotry and silence… We are one human family despite it all… Love will never die.”
Russell is an incredible preacher.
When her female band joins in and accompanies Russell with vocals, it is like angels coming out of the clouds, gifting us with their soft but driving beautiful voices.
Russell also proudly brings the culture of Montreal to almost every song: going from a lyric that is in French to a lyric that is in English, and then mentioning streets and locations that are part of her city like Rue St-Paul and places like Mont-Royal. No matter what languages Russell decides to sing in, or no matter what culture she is inspired by, at this point she can talk about whatever, in whatever language: she has already put us under a spell and transported us with her stunning poetry and enchanting music.
“Tonight was so uplifting,” Russell said.
It’s very mutual Ms. Russell: it was so uplifting for the audience. The Spoleto 2022 crowd will remember this night for a long time.
Gabriel Veiga is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.
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