Allison Crowe On The Cover

Allison Crowe: Expert Witness On Cover Songs

The story behind Allison’s appearance in this post is a convoluted one that involves a muckraking expose of the Russian Mafia’s manipulation of penny stocks on the Vancouver exchange, Talk Like A Pirate Day, the December 2008 edition of MOJO, my concern that Allison looks too wholesome, and, the apparent sine qua non for aspiring performers of and bloggers about contemporary music, a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

The reason I solicited Allison Crowe’s observations about performing covers, however, is simple. Allison Crowe is a talented, respected, and admired singer-songwriter with batches of original songs, who also performs, strikingly, a number of covers, including Joni Mitchell’s “River” and “A Case of You,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” The Beatles’ “In My Life” and “Let It Be,” Lennon’s “Imagine,” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”

Covers1 are, in fact, a significant factor in Allison’s growing notoriety – and therein lies the dilemma. But more about that in a moment.

Allison Crowe: The Background

Because some visitors may not be familiar with Allison Crowe (and because some are, as they read this, confusing her with Alison Krauss), a brief introduction is warranted.2

Allison Crowe, who turned 27 earlier this month, grew up in Nanaimo, British Columbia3 in a home where she was, in her words, “surrounded by music. There was a lot of jazz, classical and rock, in both my immediate and my extended families.” She acknowledges being influenced by a diverse collection of artists, including Nina Simone, Chet Baker, Ani DiFranco, Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, and Counting Crows.

She began her career as a professional musician at 15, playing in coffeehouses and bluffing her way past bouncers to perform at local drinking establishments.

Following the release of her first two full-length albums, Secrets and Tidings, in 2004, she seems to have performed continuously in every possible venue, appearing in festivals, cabarets, clubs, concert halls, and radio and television studios, completing multiple tours in Canada, the northeastern US, and Europe, and delivering three more albums on her own label, Rubenesque Records.

Allison Crowe: The Music

Of course, the credentials that matter most are her performances.4 If you haven’t heard her powerful yet not strident version of “Hallelujah,” you’ve missed a treat. Then, for something completely different, listen to her take on Ronnie Shannon’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),” which is (forgive me, Aretha) the best I’ve heard.5 [Note: the camera is especially shaky during the first few seconds of the video but then stabilizes.]


“Me and Bobby McGee,” the song authored by Kris Kristofferson and popularized by Janis Joplin (although Roger Miller’s version was the first to rank as a hit), is not one of my favorites, but it is useful as an example of Allison Crowe’s skills, in part because most readers of this blog have, I suspect, heard it sung by at least a couple of performers.

Also noteworthy, however, is the choice itself. If Allison had asked me to select 100 possible covers for her to play in a concert, a real concert with a fancy piano set in the converted church chapel of the Conservatory of Music in Victoria, British Columbia, a concert that would become the album, Allison Crowe Live At Wood Hall (with album art, shown on the right, radiating dangerous levels of wholesomeness), “Me and Bobby McGee” would not have been on my list. Nor would it have been on my “Possible Allison Crowe Covers #101-200” list, nor the “#201 to 300” list.6

“Me and Bobby McGee” is a Kristofferson-Joplin-Miller kind of song. Kenny Rogers, when he was still the “Kenny Rogers” in “Kenny Rogers & The First Edition,” sang it, as did Gordon Lightfoot, Bill Haley & His Comets, Sam The Sham, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. Waylon sang it. So did The Grateful Dead and Dolly Parton. It is definitely not an Allison Crowe kind of song.

Until she sings it.



Although Allison introduces over a dozen significant adaptations to “Me and Bobby McGee,” I’ll point out only one nuance. Listen to her inflected pronunciation of “Baton Rouge” in the first line, “Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train.” It makes this version of the song her own from that point, giving the song a richer, more complex flavor than those rendered in flat Midwestern intonations.7 Yet, performed the same way by almost anyone else, the same tactic would come off as too precious by half.

Once more shifting genres, moods, and techniques, “Disease,” one of Allison’s own creations, is a passionate look into the dark side of human connectedness manifest in a song played with operatic ferocity (the thumping is Allison stomping her feet – this ain’t a “People Who Need People” sort of song).

Allison Crowe: Disease

Allison Crowe Talks About Covers

DrHGuy: Among some fans at least, it seems you’re best known as a performer of songs written and first popularized by others. My belief is that such a characterization could be an occupational detriment, distracting fans and potential fans from an awareness of your other abilities and, in the process, perhaps limit your career. Do you share that concern or are you convinced that eventually talents declare themselves?

Allison Crowe:
You know, I read this question, and thought to myself “oh sweet Jesus! he’s right! nooo!!” 🙂 But, honestly, I have never really thought of things that way, even if it has momentarily crossed my mind (like when I read this question for example, and it’s true, it did!). I generally perform songs if I like them and like to play them, and a lot of the time, that’s all I am thinking about. It can be pretty selfish, and pretty simple! As a general rule, I play what I like. :o) (which is why I remain independent, so I can still be stubborn! but also I am not a hundred percent sure why, as a musician, you would ever play something you don’t enjoy in one way or another… that seems pretty soul-killing…)


DrHGuy: You’ve chosen excellent songs to cover (i.e., songs I like). I’m interested in how you decide which songs you cover. For example, are your selections the product of calculated decision-making or is it intuitive/whimsical or something between those extremes.? Are there common elements in all the songs you cover or is each song an independent decision? Most of the songs you’ve covered have been well known. Is that serendipitous or do you favor well known rather than obscure numbers. Do you consider at all the likely response from fans when you select a specific song to cover or is it entirely a matter of what fits you best?

Allison Crowe: A different mix of factors combine every time. Sometimes, I will just like a song, hear it, and want to play it, and then just learn it. Sometimes I have heard someone else cover it in a really cool way and go man, that’s an amazing song! and then want to play it… other times, someone will suggest that I should play a song and I will check it out and totally agree and then start playing it… It’s pretty much different for each song. (For example the song River was suggested to me to cover by someone online! hehe)8

I consider sometimes what will be a response from people to a song, and whether or not that response will be positive yada yada, but honestly, when it comes right down to it, if I like playing it and if it feels good, I am going to play it. Positive audience reaction factors in a lot in concert settings! When people respond favourably, that also adds to a certain emotion when playing the song. You sort of feed off the energy, and, as a performer, that can be a LOT of what it’s about, too.


DrHGuy: Thoughtful artists, it seems to me, have to decide how far they will go to produce work solely to gratify their current and anticipated audiences. A few choose to take a belligerent stance toward fans while outliers on the other side of the curve direct all their resources toward pleasing the crowd. How do you resolve this potential conflict?

Allison Crowe: Being belligerent towards people that are your fans and kind to you seems kind of silly to me. (Unless they aren’t being kind, in which case, you should still be able to express yourself, in my opinion, or else you may internalize all that and go nuts, but I mean common sense comes in to play a bit, I would hope… who knows) So far, I just kind of do what works. I think that if I “decided” to take a certain stance on anything, that would most likely be pretty contrived, so I am not sure of the point of that, when everything can be so different all the time. Everything changes, from what pleases people to what pleases yourself. You might as well just kind of go with it. I think if I took a stance either way that was just kind of stuck in time, I’d be limiting myself to that experience! And that’s just no fun.


and hope these made any sense, lol, (great questions, by the way!)

Allison :o)


Credit Due Department
The photos are from Allison Crowe’s web site. All except the image of Allison at the piano on darkened stage are by Billie Woods; the onstage photo is by Ben Strothmann.

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Nov 25, 2008 at, a predecessor of


  1. A more extensive but still non-exhaustive list of covers performed by Allison Crowe from Wikipedia follows:

    • A Case of You – Joni Mitchell
    • Murder of One – Counting Crows
    • Angel – Sarah McLachlan
    • Believe Me If All (Those Endearing Young Charms) – traditional Irish Aire (words by Sir Thomas Moore)
    • Bill – Jerome Kern, P.G. Wodehouse & Oscar Hammerstein II (from Show Boat)
    • Darling Be Home Soon – The Lovin’ Spoonful
    • Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
    • I Dreamed a Dream – Alain Boublil & Claude-Michel Schönberg (from Les Misérables)
    • Independence Day – Ani DiFranco
    • Indifference – Pearl Jam
    • I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) – Ronnie Shannon (popularized by Aretha Franklin)
    • In Love in Vain – Jerome Kern & Leo Robin
    • Imagine – John Lennon
    • In My Life – The Beatles
    • Let It Be – The Beatles
    • Me and Bobby McGee – Fred Foster & Kris Kristofferson (popularized by Janis Joplin)
    • Playboy Mommy – Tori Amos
    • Raining in Baltimore – Counting Crows
    • Release – Pearl Jam
    • River – Joni Mitchell
    • Running for Home – Matthew Good, Dave Genn
    • Shine a Light – The Rolling Stones
    • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
    • 32 Flavors – Ani DiFranco
    • Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper, Rob Hyman
    • Throw Your Arms Around Me – Hunters and Collectors
    • When I’m Gone – Phil Ochs
    • Who Will Save Your Soul – Jewel


  2. I especially like posts of this sort. If I can manage to structure it properly, it will offer insights into an artist’s thinking about one aspect of her craft, but even if that goal eludes me, I can account this post a success if it introduces a few people to a talented performer. []
  3. She is occasionally referenced as “the other singer from from Nanaimo,” because that city is also home to jazz pianist and vocalist, Diana Krall. []
  4. An especially generous offering of Allison Crowe’s music and videos can be found at Allison Crowe Music. []
  5. It is also a useful example of the mystery of how songs are chosen to cover. “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” had been one of Allison’s favorite songs for over fifteen years before she asked herself, “Why don’t I play this?” []
  6. This may go a long way toward explaining why so few musical stars ask me for lists of possible covers. []
  7. In Kristofferson’s case, at least, the flat intonations were no doubt intentional. He worked in and around Baton Rouge, had a decent ear for colloquial language, and was a Rhodes Scholar. He wrote and sung the the song the way he thought it should be sung. []
  8. Encouraging fans to suggest cover songs seems an especially risky proposition. Given Allison’s extensive range, is there a contemporary song that will not be promoted by someone? Will Allison be hammering out AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” or playing “Never You Change” in the offbeat fashion of Toots And The Maytals? Maybe a tribute album – “Allison Crowe Sings The Greatest Hits Of Kiss?” Or how about The Dresden Dolls’ “Coin Operated Boy?” That should take care of the too-wholesome thing. Personally, I am confident that the song that would put Allison over the top is the Camp CYOKAMO Song. []

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