As each year begins I often find myself wondering what new things will come along which, by the end of that year, we might look back and think, ‘How did we manage to live without that?’ I guess we could apply this to all manner of items, inventions, apps or innovations but I like to think of it in a musical context. On BBC One the other night they were showing the film, ‘Yesterday‘ which (though I still have to watch it) is based on the idea of a world where no one has heard of The Beatles. Such a central part of our culture is almost impossible to imagine being missing from our lives, but as years pass by, I find myself adding songs and artists I would surely have missed had they not made records I go back to again and again.
So it is this year with the first ever solo album by Allison Russell. Perhaps we should have seen it coming. Allison is no overnight success. We have played her records as a member of Birds of Chicago and more recently as part of the folk collaborative, Our Native Daughters where she shared the billing with Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah and Leyla McCalla. All of that could well lead an astute listener to expect something as life changing and brilliant as Outside Child, but I’m afraid it still took me by surprise. Put simply. Allison’s first ever solo album is a stunning piece of work on many levels. Firstly, musically it’s a great listen. It plays to her strengths which include her distinctive voice and sense of harmony, her collaborative instincts and her desire to tell her own stories. It’s the stories, however, which mark this record out as a unique piece of art which should be viewed as that. It’s the songs that really make this count. Allison isn’t afraid to tell a story which many artists would find almost too painful to revisit. Her songs are about her childhood in Montreal suffering at the hands from a step-father who, not only, abused her sexually but was also a racist whose values and behaviour were formed in the white supremacist community in Indiana where he was born in 1936. In this week’s Another Country you can hear Allison explain what a ‘sundown town’ is and what it meant for her growing up. She also talks about her own sexuality, how looking for refuge from the torment of her family led her to explore that more fully and how all of this impacted on her as an artist and a mother.
Please don’t imagine for a second that this makes the album or the interview too hard a listen. What is remarkable, in all of this, is how much joy there is in Allison’s performance on the record and in what she has to say about her life now. I found it THE MOST moving interview I have ever recorded in the many years I have been on air with the AC and I recommend our second hour to you on this week’s show.
We will also take time to bring you some great new records by Son Volt, Holly Macve, Jackson Browne and a real return to form from Yola. As ever, we’re on BBC Radio Scotland from five past eight and you can catch the show anytime and any place you happen to be on BBC Sounds. Join me if you can.