Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
“A violent lullaby” is how Allison Russell sums up her abusive childhood on the disquieting “Nightflyer;” it’s a succinct description that captures the bittersweet and tragic beauty of her debut, Outside Child.
Many of the songs on Outside Child hearken back to classics like “Love Child” by Diana Ross and the Supremes and Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”—particularly “The Hunters,” where Russell confronts the parents whose brutality still haunts her. It’s an album that gives voice to the unwanted and the exploited and to those who, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, transfigure their past against all odds
Behind Russell’s gorgeous vocals lie stark and disturbing tales of a brutal girlhood. Russell shares the sexual exploitation she suffered at the hands of her father who, “Used me like a wife/ Mama turned a blind eye” on “4th day Prayer.” Mixing mythology, folklore, spiritual magic, and biographical details, Russell’s lyrics evoke visceral emotions. The multi-instrumentalist balances the intensity of these “violent lullabies” with acoustic guitar and banjo, grounding bleakness against the comfort of traditional folk and often selecting one instrument to shine behind her voice—like the sharp banjo pluck on “Little Rebirth” or the menacing acoustic guitar and banjo on “All of the Women.”
Though Outside Child is filled with hard-earned wisdom, Russell’s profound empathy and storytelling shatters the darkness, and her unapologetic truths give space for tragedies to be transformed into triumphs.