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An inspiring Canadian singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, Allison Russell made her name in the 2000s as a member of the Canadian roots music group Po’ Girl before forming the duo Birds of Chicago in 2012 with JT Nero, her husband and creative collaborator. Taking inspiration from a wide range of genres, Russell’s music blends jazz, country, folk, Celtic, and blues styles into one distinctive commingle of her own. Not unlike fellow Renaissance woman and Our Native Daughters bandmate Rhiannon Giddens, her musical versatility has made her difficult to pigeonhole while also helping to establish her as a lynchpin of roots music in general. In 2021, after two decades of musical exploration, Russell created her Grammy-nominated solo debut with the powerful Outside Child. The album won Americana Music Association’s award for 2022 Album of the Year.

Ahead of her Bluesfest 2023 debut and Melbourne and Sydney dates with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, acclaimed singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Allison Russell spoke with Australian Musician editor Greg Phillips about her career and the upcoming Australian tour. At the time of the interview Allison was chatting with us while walking on the Shelby Bottoms Greenway trail in Nashville on her way to pick up her daughter, hence the hand held filming.

More about Allison Russell (courtesy of All Music)
Born in Montreal to a teenaged Canadian mother and Grenadan father who left before she was born, Russell endured foster care until, at the age of five, she came to live with her mother and stepfather. Creatively inclined from a young age, she used music as an emotional escape from the trauma of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather. She ran away at the age of 15, living rough in Montreal while managing to finish high school. A cross-country move to Vancouver helped establish Russell in a new and nurturing creative community, and in 2001 she formed Po’ Girl with Trish Klein, formerly of alt-country act the Be Good Tanyas. A mix of originals and traditional songs, Russell served as co-frontwoman while playing everything from clarinet to the banjo. Po’ Girl’s stylistic mix of old-time, jazz, folk, and other roots elements won them an international fan base, and they went on to release four acclaimed albums.

After 2010’s Follow Your Bliss, Russell relocated to Chicago, where she began working with musician and future husband JT Nero. A mix of gospel-inspired folk and Americana, Birds of Chicago released their eponymous first album in 2012 and began touring the American folk festival and club circuit. The two married in 2013 and gave birth to a daughter. 2016’s Joe Henry-produced Real Midnight raised their profile significantly and they returned in 2018 on a new label, Signature Sounds, with Love and Wartime. By this time, the duo had moved to Nashville, deepening their connections with the roots music community.

Russell was approached by Rhiannon Giddens to join the banjo-driven folk group Our Native Daughters, which showcased Black female musicians and focused on issues of race and the history of slavery. They made their debut on the Smithsonian Folkways label in 2019. By this point, Russell had developed a group of songs that boldly and poignantly told the story of her own personal history, particularly in regards to her abuse as a child. Recording in Nashville with producer Dan Knobler, she and a group of collaborators knocked out the sessions for Outside Child in just four sessions. The album was released in May 2021 by the Fantasy label.
6 Apr – 10 Apr 2023 Byron Bay

Wednesday, 5-Apr-2023 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Thursday 6-Apr-2023 – Palais Theatre, Melbourne


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