Allison Russell: Live In Ottawa

Allison Russell

Call it good fortune, and/or good timing, but both were certainly a beautiful thing when it came to catching up with GRAMMY-Award winning artist Allison Russell in Ottawa recently.  Our travel plans for an extended break in Canada’s capital city earlier this month were finalized back in the summer of last year, leaving us with big smiles on our faces when Allison subsequently announced a date on her current “The Returner” album tour at the National Arts Centre; on an evening that coincided perfectly with our travel plans. Tickets bought.

Long-time GDW readers will recall that Allison’s stunning debut solo album, “Outside Child,” received our 2021 Album of the Year honors – making it extra special to catch a performance from Allison in Virginia the following spring.  While I personally feel that Allison was robbed of a GRAMMY Award for her debut album, it was nice to see that this clear oversight did not take place with her most recent sophomore album, with Allison’s song “Eve Was Black” earning top honors in this year’s American Roots Performance category.  “We had the absolutely surreal, yet joyful experience of winning our first GRAMMY award,” Allison would announce from the Babs Asper stage within the NAC. “Never in an indescribable amount of time would I have dreamt that I would hear Allison Russell with ‘Eve Was Black’ called out for the best American Roots performance.”

Allison Russell

With a 95-minute set at her disposal, Allison (vocals/banjo/clarinet) and the Rainbow Coalition opened the evening with “Hy-Brasil” from “Outside Child,” before progressing into several new album tracks, including the lively, bi-lingual “Springtime,” title track “The Returner,” and recent single “Demons.”  The inclusion of a slower, stripped-down triple offering of “Superlover” (what a delight to hear this Birds of Chicago tune), “Persephone,” and “Poison Arrow” made for a fabulous temporary change of pace, and as is customary for Allison, presented the opportunity to welcome and introduce those on stage with her.

“This is not my band, we are a coalition that believes in the basic principle of human equality, the equality of our one human family,” Allison announced as her four musical companions joined her at center stage – Caoimhe Hopkinson (guitar/vocals), Elenna Canlas (keyboards/vocals), Ganessa James (bass/guitar/vocals) and Caoi de Barra (percussion/vocals).  “Of pushing back against bigotry and harmful hierarchies and all the forms that they take, and embracing the fact that we are one family with a shared destiny on this one living planet in the entire galaxy … the only one that we know of despite the billionaires’ race to find out how messed up it will actually be to get trapped up there.”

Allison Russell

Following the performance of “The Returner,” Allison paused for a moment to reflect upon her return to this very venue, and the memories provoked. “I had a real… time travel when I stepped into the stage door tonight. The last time I was at NAC was in 2007 with my beloved friend [CBC host/author] Stuart McLean. It was a Christmas tour, but that was a long time since I was in this true national, beating hearts treasure of our country,” she recalled. “Stuart was the first person to hire me under my own name – Allison Russell – in 2007 – to step up into my own name and story and power, and he encouraged me up until the day he left us, and I miss him, and I love him, and walking into this building just really hit me.  It is very moving to be here tonight and for you all to be here with us.”

With a powerful closing performance of “Rag Child,” and prior to exiting the stage before the evening’s encore offering of “Requiem” (with guest artist Aysanabee), Allison once again offered her gratitude to those of us in the room making up the ‘other half of the circle’. “[Having] hope is a practice. You are all helping us practice hope,” she declared. “This gives me hope, and there is power and truth in what happens when all of us in our human family get into a room like this and experience something together, live music together, and joyful creative communion together… We laugh and cry and move together, we become ritually more loving and that to me is holy and sacred. Thank you for participating and for sharing with us tonight.”

Set List:

  1. Hy-Brasil
  2. Springtime
  3. Stay Right Here
  4. The Returner
  5. Superlover
  6. Persephone
  7. Poison Arrow
  8. Shadowlands
  9. Eve Was Black
  10.  Demons
  11.  Rag Child


  1. Requiem (ft. Aysanabee)

Photo Credit: Artist Website (official tour poster)

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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