Allison Russell Demonstrates Versatility and Resilience on 'Outside Child'
Published May 18, 2021Allison Russell already belongs to two supergroups as the co-founder of Our Native Daughters and Birds of Chicago, but Outside Child marks her first foray as a solo artist. It's often difficult for any musician to step out of the shadow of their group successes, so it's reassuring then that Russell's technical debut is an extremely generous project, in both talent and depth.
From the outset, Outside Child is a record steeped in resilience and healing — and a celebration of both, through events such as the abuse she experienced as a child in Montreal to the birth of her daughter. Take the opener, named after her hometown: "Oh you Cathedrals / Your shadows felt like / loving arms / I was your child, Montreal / You would not let me come to harm." Russell asks difficult questions of her traumas, and while the answers aren't linear, they're no less than cathartic, even redemptive.
It's the birth of her daughter that acts as the emotional lynchpin of the album. One gets the sense that everything Russell has been through pales in comparison to the redeeming power of that act. This belief is most potent on "Nightflyer": "I am the mother of the evening star / I am the love that conquers all."
Russell displays many talents over the course of the album's 11 tracks, but her voice may be her most versatile tool. It's hard to pick out just one moment as a showcase yet the refrain on "Runner," assisted by Yola, is certainly a highlight in taking dark subject matter and allowing it to transcend to, as she sings, "deliverance."
Beyond the obvious quality of her vocals, Russell is also a veritable shapeshifter as she adapts to the needs of each track, whether that's seamlessly incorporating multi-part harmonies on "Poison Arrow" or the triumphant crooning of "Persephone." On "Hy-Brasil," what begins in an acid rock wash translates to a masterful grasp of melody and storytelling from Russell, with little more than a pounding drum straight out of the mountains as guidance. Close your eyes and it's the shortest of stretches to imagine this sung around a campfire out in the wild, with no one else but the stars for company.
Outside Child as a whole exhibits a lust for life in spite of its trials. Closer "Joyful Motherfuckers" asks its listeners where the self-same have gone "now that this world is almost done." Russell doesn't have an answer. In spite of that apocalyptic portent, you're left hopeful, with the impression that you'll find them nonetheless. (Fantasy)