Allison Russell

Allison Russell

Born and raised in Montreal, poet, singer, songwriter, activist and multi-instrumentalist, Allison Russell (co-founder of Our Native Daughters and Birds of Chicago) imbues her music with the colors of her city – the light, the landscape, the language – but also the trauma that she suffered there. Outside Child, her acclaimed debut album, is a heartbreaking reflection on a childhood no one should have to endure, and at the same time a powerful reclamation – asserted from a place of healing, of motherhood, of partnership – and from a new homemade in Nashville.

The record features contributions from many of the artistic family members she has found there including producer Dan Knobler, Erin Rae, Jamie Dick, Joe Pisapia, The McCrary Sisters, Ruth Moody, Yola, and her partner JT Nero. “It was 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.”

Outside Child, says Russell, “is about resilience, survival, transcendence, the redemptive power of art, community, connection, and chosen family.” Singing about this on “Nightflyer,” Russell, ponders the healing power of motherhood, using the track’s wide-open expanse to convey the strength she didn’t know she had. Here, the line “I am the mother of the evening star / I am the love that conquers all” is “the most defiantly triumphant, hopeful line I’ve ever written…that’s about the birth of my daughter and how that transformed me,” she explains. Though they had a fraught relationship, Russell remembers how she’d crawl underneath the piano and listen to her own mother play. “I would hum along with her,” Russell recalls. “She said I was humming before I could talk. I was able to feel some kind of comfort or love or connection in a way that she couldn’t verbally or physically express – but I could feel in her music that there was love in her.”

In the end, Outside Child is not only a radical reclamation of a traumatic childhood and lost home, but also a lantern light for survivors of all stripes – a fervent reminder of the eleventh hour, resuscitative power of art.

“Outside Child, draws water from the dark well of a violent past,” says poet and songwriter Joe Henry.” “The songs themselves ––though iron-hard in their concerns–– are exultant: exercising haunted dream-like clean bedsheets snapped and hung out into broad daylight, and with the romantic poet’s lust for living and audacity of endurance.”

Outside Child Reception:

Since its release in May of 2021, Outside Child and has been celebrated in the U.S and around the globe. Hailed as one of the year’s best albums by a broad cross-section of the nation’s critics, the album continues to garner accolades and awards from many of music’s most prestigious outlets. “It’s an album of strength and affirmation, not victimization,” said The New York Times in their Sunday profile, (Outside Child was #2 on NYT’s ‘Best Albums of 2021’ list.) Rolling Stone also raved, proclaiming it “One of the most commanding debuts to come out of Nashville in years.” Stereogum named it the ‘Best Country Album of 2021,’ while NPR affirmed “thoughtful, beautiful, deeply reflective, a triumphant solo collection.” Variety summed up Outside Child with, “Musical memoirs don’t come any braver or better than Russell’s solo debut, the finest album of 2021.”

Just this past year Russell performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live!,(twice!) Ellen, Late Night With Stephen Colbert, CBS This Morning Saturday, made her Opry debut and appeared at the Country Music Hall of Fame. She also performed at the 2022 GRAMMY’s Premiere Ceremony and is set to make her Austin City Limits and NPR Tiny Desk debut in the fall.

Honors, nominations and awards for Russell and Outside Child have been steadily building. They  include three 2022 Americana Award nominations (Album of the Year, Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for “Persephone” co-written with JT Nero), two International Folk Music Award wins, 2022 Juno nomination for ‘Songwriter of the Year,’ and her first-ever Juno Award win for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year (the first-ever Black artist in Juno history to win that category.) Last year, Russell also received two 2021 Americana Awards nominations, won three Canadian Folk Music Awards, two UK Americana Music Awards, and was recognized by the Recording Academy for the first time ever with three GRAMMY Award nominations.

Expanding on a lifetime of activism and community organizing, in July of 2021 Russell was named curator of Newport Folk Festival’s prestigious closing night set.  Calling it “Once and Future Sounds – Roots and Revolution,” Russell used the opportunity to bring together a landmark BIPOC/LGBTQIA+ showcase that included a number of vital, predominantly Black, and all-female roots-music voices — from Kyshona, Celisse, and Joy Oladokun to Sunny War, Kam Franklin, Amythyst Kiah, and Chaka Kahn — giving the artists a meaningful main-stage platform and wide exposure. In their glowing set review, Rolling Stone said,  “Russell’s curated set felt like a blueprint and a road map, redefining the legacies of the festival’s past while expanding the possibilities for its future.”

In August 2022, Russell shared a new single “You’re Not Alone” featuring Brandi Carlile, an inspiring meditation on the power of ancestral strength and the essential nature of community. Written and produced by Russell, “You’re Not Alone,”, also features a string arrangement performed by Sista Strings (Monique Ross, Chauntee Ross) and Larissa Maestro.

Earlier this year, Russell also announced a book deal with Flatiron/MacMillan for her debut novel, a memoir based on her life and the material that inspired Outside Child.

Whether headlining her own transcendent performances or opening  for contemporaries such as Brandi Carlile, Nathaniel Rateliff and Jason Isbell, Allison Russell’s breakthrough is poised to maintain momentum throughout 2022 and into next and her rapidly ascending rise shows no signs of slowing down.