Alison Solo 2020
Vancouver vanisher varnishes her raw nerve with arresting tunes yet, in search of identity, never stays in one place
“Won’t you pray,” implores Ms Solo at the end of this album, and she doesn’t do so either, but the assertiveness of Alison’s sophomore effort, issued a whopping dozen years after her debut “Sakaita” – and the time spent away turned the Canadian into a mature performer. Don’t be fooled by her waif-like looks because, while wistful motifs feel inherent to Solo’s songs, it’s blues, rather than folk, that drives them. Even though Alison will refer to the source of it all in “Sister Rosetta Tharpe” – with a roaring emphasis on the “I ain’t no back up girl” refrain – and deliberately let poetic imagery cloud the meaning of romantic pieces such as “Old English” where pictures of her homeland dictate the narrative, she wouldn’t mince words when the present is concerned.
Opener “American Dream” may not be a protest number per se, what with Solo invoking the spirit of Grace Slick to bring up social context, yet once Alison sweeps her tender six-string strum with an acidic electric wave, the singer’s silky-to-velvet vocals – which have been building up to a choir until that point – become a voice of the generation. She’s less defying in “Last One Standing” whose lyrics reveal a great deal of vulnerability, only the organ-oiled, irresistibly infectious roll of “Chiron” should unfold the whole broad, and bold, spectrum of her talents as both writer and multi-instrumentalist, thrown into focus by Ron Nevison’s mix.
A tad theatrical in “Beautiful And Old” – an anthem that’s equally fragile and robust in terms of its piano-rippled and guitar-riven sound and life-affirming in terms of mood, and bolstered with the boisterous “What You Hide Can Hurt You” interlude – Alison Solo is nevertheless sincere throughout this brilliant record. If the artist manages to not walk away from music again, she’s bound to go far and fly high.