Speaking about the video for "Demons" off her new Album 'The Returner' Allison Russell wrote:
"We don’t have to hide from our history, we just have to face it. And walk through it together." The sentiment echoed throughout her Sunday night performance at Infinity Hall - Hartford.
"Demons (Demons), demons (Demons)
Surely can't outride 'em
Oh turn around, look 'em in the face
They don't like how sunlight tastes
No, no, no, no, no, no, no"
It's not unusual for an artist to draw upon their hardships to inspire them, although Allison Russell has lived and felt the Blues more than most. Her story is one that she is now comfortable telling. She grew up in foster care. Her mother married a man that abused her, for a decade. Heavy stuff.
What stuck out most about her performance was how she's taken that childhood pain and harnessed the power of her trauma - transforming it into something beautiful to see and hear. While the lyrics are devastatingly honest and raw, the music is uplifting - and strangely hopeful.
4th Day Prayer
"One for the hate that loops and loops
Two for the poison at the roots
Three for the children breaking through
Four for the day we're standing in the sun"
The fact that she has reached such creative heights (she has been nominated for four Grammys this year) after so many challenges would be enough of a story of redemption for most. Yet, she seems not satisfied with the personal accolades. She wants to turn her dogma into a movement.
Her band, The Rainbow Coalition warmed up the room, taking the stage one by one. It was a great way to get to know each musician's personality. When Russell took the stage, she spoke eloquently about Sisterhood, of the family she has created with the band. She spoke of breaking negative patterns, and confronting your past head-on in order to take control of the future. She's a huge believer in community, and hers has grown considerably. She mentioned the threads connecting her to her musical sisters - Resistance Revival Chorus, Rhiannon Giddens, SistaStrings, Brandi Carlisle, Joni Mitchell, and Chaka Khan.
"Persephone" was the highlight of the evening. The song deals with finding love and connection after violence. If the lyrics don't grab you - her clarinet solo gives me the chills every time I listen to it. There is something about the serious nature of the lyrics that her voice and the instrument contradict and emphasize. The song is about finding a safe space - the kind that she has now created for herself onstage with her new family.
"Tap, tap, tappin' on your window screen
Gotta let me in Persephone
Got nowhere to go, but I had to get away from him
My petals are bruised, but I'm still a flower
Come runnin' to you in the violet hour
Put your skinny arms around me, let me taste your skin"
The set closed with the poignant "Poison Arrow". The chorus of the song echoed the lessons of the evening. Keep pushing. Do the work. Live in kindness. We are all broken and scarred and tired, to various degrees. She extolls us to join together in moving forward, reminding us we can't heal in isolation. She sang some of the verses in French, translating each for the crowd.
"Go in peace be not afraid
Roll 'em easy, Namaste
All you sad and broken travelers come on"
Infinity Hall Hartford (500 capacity) is a beautiful room to see live music. Although it opened in 2007, it had been over a decade since I had been there. It's wood-paneled and the sound quality is fantastic. It's highly recommended to visit if something on their calendar appeals to you. The staff was polite and accommodating.
If you are visiting Infinity Hall, try Bear's BBQ right across the street from the venue. The service and food were great and the location is perfect for pre-show drinks and dinner.