Outside Child is the debut album by Montreal native Allison Russel, a 39-year-old singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist now living in Nashville and known for her work with partner JT Nero in Birds of Chicago. Prior to that, she was a member of the band Po' Boy and the all-female banjo-picking collective Our Native Daughters. Many of the songs on Outside Child were written in response to her childhood traumas. As a teenager, Allison Russell fled her abusive home and then lived on the streets for an extended period of time until she discovered music as her thing, which not only brought her success, but also contributed and continues to contribute significantly to healing her psychological wounds.
On her solo album, we witness Allison Russel as a jazz singer singing about her beloved home Montréal in French. but also, as a country singer reflecting on her own destiny and presenting the message of how to survive the trauma inflicted on her, wrapped in rock'n'roll.
The song "Montreal" is dedicated to the city that offered her a place to stay after she fled her parents' home, even if that stay looked rather miserable. Despite all the adverse circumstances in which she had to exist in this Canadian city, she felt that for the first time in her life she was safe and protected there. The pain in her voice, however, also announces that this time had not been a bed of roses for the young woman.
"Persephone" is dedicated to the place of the same name, where she finds refuge with a girlfriend and experiences affection for the first time in her life. In "The Runner," she gives a powerful emotional account of what it means to have escaped domestic violence and to live always on the run from the past. "Nightflyer" tells of the elation of freeing oneself from the past, at least temporarily, through superhuman strength.
"Hy Brasil" proves to be a song that, based on a simple but catchy nursery rhyme-like melody, brings a little light to an album that otherwise makes heavy emotional demands on the listener. "All the Women" is a never-ending crescendo that kicks off with a deep clawhammer banjo, whereupon Allison Russel sings her heart out until she runs out of words, the effect of which is then heightened by a clarinet. With the song "The Hunters" Allison Russell introduces people who abuse others, asks what could be behind it and, after this question remains without an answer, seeks with this song victims who have experienced something similar and are looking for an explanation. "Joyful Motherfuckers" proclaims a message of hopeful defiance towards her abuser without - as in all the other songs - lapsing into bitterness.
Allison Russel demonstrates authentic feeling in every song regardless of whether it is folk, soul or rock'n'roll or a fusion of these vocal styles, based on a voice whose urgency has matured through real life experience.