Allison Russell: The Runner
Despite the bleak lyrics, spirited guitar and her rich vocals impart an uplifting feel.
By Kerry Doole
Allison Russell – The Runner (Fantasy Records): Montreal born and raised roots singer/songwriter and activist Allison Russell first gained attention as a member of Canadian folk outfit Po' Boy. She releases her debut solo album, Outside Child, on Fantasy Records on May 21, followed by her late-night television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (joined by Brittney Spencer and Brandi Carlile) on May 25. The album has already elicited rave reviews in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and American Songwriter.
The Runner, a just-released advance track from the album, helps validate the growing buzz around her work. Describing the song in a label press release, she explains that “I left home at 15, I managed to finish high school, start my first year of college - I worked terrible telemarketing jobs... My adoptive father continued to stalk and harass me around the city. When I was 17, I ran farther - across the country - from Montreal to Vancouver. I was deeply despairing, suicidal, self-harming - and then music saved me.”
Despite the bleak lyrics ("Oh I had to bleed to bleed to bleed, Till his poison left my veins"), the tune has a vibrant and uplifting feel, thanks to Her rich voice (Steve Nicks is a reference point), the guest vocals of Yola, and spirited guitar.
Look for similarly autobiographical material on the new full-length. “Throughout the album, she sings about deliverance and redemption, about the places and people and realizations that helped her survive and claim her freedom. It’s an album of strength and affirmation, not victimization,” said The New York Times in their recently released profile on Russell.
The record features contributions from many of the artistic family members she has found in her new home in Nashville, including producer Dan Knobler, Joe Pisapia, The McCrary Sisters, Ruth Moody, Yola, and her partner JT Nero.
“It was just about making these songs live and breathe in the most honest way,” Russell says. “We were laughing, we were crying. And the communion between musicians, I hope people can hear that on the record. It felt like magic."
Russell will return to Newport Folk July 23-28 as a solo artist. She played the festival previously with Our Native Daughters and also sat in with Mavis Staples and Hozier. In addition, she’ll play the Moon River Music Festival on Sept 11 in Chattanooga, TN.
On May 18, she’ll make her Country Music Hall of Fame debut. Russell will also hold a live concert release day event to stream via Bandcamp on May 21. Proceeds will benefit The National Bail Out #FreeBlackMamas initiative. This is a Black-led collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. More information here.
Publicity: Ken Beattie, Killbeat
Management: Carissa Stolting, Left Bank Artists