On October 13, singer-songwriter Allison Russell played The Ark in celebration of her new album,”The Returner.” The event included a pre-show conversation with Russell and emcee Omari Rush, executive director of CultureSource.
Artistically, Russell is a versatile virtuoso, excelling as a singer, poetand multi-instrumentalist, having spent years perfecting her craft through various musical projects, including being part of bands like Our Native Daughterss and Po’ Girl.
While her resume boasts several Juno, Americana awards, and Canadian Folk Music Awards, alongside a multitude of Grammy nominations, following her first solo album, Outside Child, released in 2021, Russell’s goal for her platform extends beyond that of trophies, as throughout her career, she has remained an open book regarding the abuse she suffered from her racist adoptive father and its long-lasting effects on both her personal and artistic life. Using her story, Russell uses her talents to help those with a traumatic past find a happier future.
However, For her sophomore album, “The Returner,” Russell uses her commanding sophomore album as a message of rejuvenation. Throughout ten tracks, she crafts an introspective, spirited and vigorous album highlighted by Russell’s passion for heavy lyrics and beautiful instrumentation.
“(‘The Returner’) is a record very much grounded in the present,” Russell said. “It’s about re-embodiment, joy, and being who we are exactly this time. It’s about the beauty of leaning into our circles of chosen family and creative community of them being there for us and us being there for them. And as a whole, always being greater than the sum of the parts.”
Throughout “The Returner,” Russell pushes the boundaries of R&B, pop, folk, and soul music, crafting a genre-shifting blend of music that dictates the album’s energy without sacrificing any of her content quality.
Songs like “Stay Right Here” display Russell’s commitment to her content, where the singer’s lyricism, inspired by her daughter and The Freedom Movement of Iran, is juxtaposed by light-hearted disco-esque instrumentation.
“(This album) taught me that I’ve come a long way as an evolving human, as a mother, as a beginning to truly be able to love myself the way I love others,” Russell said. “Also, it taught me that I have one of the most amazing communities, chosen families, and friend groups in the world and how lucky I am and that I need to treasure them and hold them close and lift them at every opportunity.”
At the nucleus of the album is Russell’s lead single, “Eve Was Black,” a six-minute fight against the demonization and dehumanization that comes from living as a minority. Whether it’s confronting microaggressions or attacking racism and sexism head-on, Russell uses this track as the base of the album’s central theme of fighting “Demons.”
“I wrote long before the other songs,” Russell said. “I didn’t realize that it was the heart of the record until later. It wasn’t until we wrote “Demons” and “Snakelife.” I realized this is a trilogy within a trilogy because “The Returner” is actually the second volume of “Outside Child,” which is the first volume. And probably, the third record will be the Rainbow Coalition‘s “After a Future of My Dreams.”
For those unfamiliar, the Rainbow Coalition is Russell’s band of all-female musicians.
“I’m always in awe of the arc audience. Because the people who show up to engage with us in joyful assembly and creative communion each night are different. I’m always looking forward to connecting like that,” Russell said.
Russell’s performance at The Ark also doubled as the venue’s annual Fall Fundraiser, the second largest annual fundraiser after the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. Russell said the event was in collaboration with a non-partisan organization, Headcount, to help register voters at the show, and a percentage of the ticket sales will go towards The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and The Trevor Project, a 24-hour crisis support service for LGBTQ youth.
“I feel like when we gather together in joyful assembly to celebrate music, to engage in a creative performance together, it is a reaffirmation of the beauty and strength and the joy and health of diversity,“ Russell said.
For more information on Allison Russell’s upcoming performance at The Ark, visit their website or call (734) 761-1818 for more information.
Antonio Cooper is a freelance journalist from Detroit, Michigan. His coverage of music festivals and interviews with local celebrities appeared in The E-Current Magazine, The Detroit Metro Times, XXL Magazine, RichMagDigital, The Ann Arbor Observer, and Pop Magazine.