Canadian Musician - July-August 2022 - Page 34


Queen of Folk

On her masterful debut solo LP , released two decades into her career , Allison Russell reclaimed her traumatic personal history . In doing so , she ’ s achieved a rare level of prestige .

Allison Russell keeps being mistaken for a new ( and younger ) artist . In a sense , it ’ s understandable . When you ’ re seeing an artist at the Grammys or winning a Juno Award , or being profiled in the New York Times and performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live , but you ’ ve not heard of them before , well , it ’ s logical to think , they must be new . Russell , though , has been busting her ass for two decades , but it was never her name on the album cover . That changed with Outside Child , and so did her life .

“ It ’ s a funny thing , where people assume I ’ m younger than I am all the time , which I suppose is a gift of the melanin ,” laughs the 43-year-old to Canadian Musician over Zoom from her home in Nashville . “ That ’ s great , but they assume I ’ m younger , and because this is a debut solo album , they think I ’ m a brand new artist . People that don ’ t do the deep dive of research , and that has been a funny and interesting dynamic .”
In chatting with her , you get the sense that Russell is still processing how much her life and career have changed in the last year . That ’ s certainly reasonable . But also , she ’ s fully aware , having been in this business for 20 years , that fame and acclaim can be fleeting , and she ’ s determined to harness her influence , as long as it lasts , to help make the world better .
In 2019 , Russell recorded the 11 songs that would become her first solo album , Outside Child . That record then sat on the backburner for a year . She resumed subsistence touring , as she calls it , with her main band , Birds of Chicago , which is the duo of Russell and her husband , JT Nero . That had been her life for two decades , touring relentlessly to pay the bills , but she loved it . She was a folk music lifer , and even the hardscrabble existence of a touring , working-class musician , but surrounded by the love of her “ chosen family ,” was paradise compared to the hell she ’ d escaped . Far more than any music she wrote previously , Outside Child laid bare the suffering she ’ d experienced at the hands of her adoptive father while growing up in Montreal . It wasn ’ t until the pandemic forced