Allison Russell - The Returner



4x GRAMMY-nominated singer, songwriter, poet, activist, and multi-instrumentalist Allison Russell has announced her new album, The Returner. The record will be released on September 8th, 2023, via Fantasy Records and is available for pre-order HERE. Today, she has shared the title-track from the album. Stream the “The Returner” HERE and watch the single’s visualizer HERE. The Returner was written and co-produced by Allison along with dim star (her partner JT Nero and Drew Lindsay) and was recorded over Solstice week in December 2022 at Henson Recording Studios in Los Angeles, CA. It features Russell’s “Rainbow Coalition” band of all womxn musicians along with special guest appearances from the legendary Wendy & Lisa, Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, and Hozier.

Allison Russell on The Returner:

“My goal with The Returner – sonically, poetically, and spiritually – is a radical reclamation of the present tense, a real time union of body, mind, and soul. This album is a much deeper articulation of rhythm, groove, and syncopation. Groove as it heralds the self back into the body, groove as it celebrates sensual and sexual agency and flowering, groove as an urgent call to action and political activism.

In just a word, it’s funkier. But as is the history of anything funky, it’s never just a party. It is a multiverse of energies that merges the celebration and the battle cry. For while an embrace of the present tense is a celebration, it is equally an unquestioning leap into battle – cultural, political, environmental.”

Since the release of her debut solo LP two years ago Outside Child, Russell’s often devastating, deeply moving, cathartic celebration of survivor’s joy has become one of the most acclaimed albums of the past 10 years. Now comes the second chapter in herstory, The Returner, a body-shaking, mind-expanding, soulful expression of liberation, love, and self-respect that serves as a fierce declaration of joy for all survivors that have made it to the other side. Allison, JT, and Drew built The Returner from the bottom up with a rhythm-first, genre-fluid approach. The improvisational energy of great female artists sparked the album’s fierce joy, and provided a wider canvas for Allison’s immense, unlimited talent. In all, the new album doesn’t just deliver on the promise of the last two years, it exceeds all reasonable (and unreasonable) expectations and affirms Allison Russell’s place among music’s most vital artists¾and The Returner, as one of 2023’s most essential recordings.

Allison Russell has spent her career in multiple bands, including Po’ Girl, Our Native Daughters, and Birds of Chicago. After a career spent as a gifted multi-instrumentalist, backing numerous other artists, she finally dared to release her solo project in 2021. “It’s an album of strength and affirmation, not victimization,” said The New York Times in their profile on Russell and Outside Child. Following the album’s release,  Russell performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Ellen, Late Night With Stephen Colbert, CBS Saturday Morning, Austin City Limits, The Kelly Clarkson Show made her Opry debut and appeared at the Country Music Hall of Fame and performed at the 2022 GRAMMY’s Premiere Ceremony.

The accolades for Russell have been immense. In addition to her four GRAMMY nominations, she has earned three 2022 Americana Award nominations and a win for Album of the Year, two International Folk Music Award wins, a 2022 Juno nomination for ‘Songwriter of the Year,’ and her first-ever Juno Award win for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. Russell received two 2021 Americana Awards nominations, won three Canadian Folk Music Awards, two UK Americana Music Awards, and more. She was recently nominated for Song of the Year and Artist of the Year for the 2023 Americana Awards. In addition, Russell has consistently used her newfound platform to elevate, educate and inspire; curating the history making Once And Future Sounds: Roots and Revolution set for the Newport Folk Festival in 2021 and mobilizing this year’s triumphant Love Rising All-Star benefit concert in support of LGBTQIA+ causes in Nashville – raising over $550,000 and calling national attention to Tennessee’s dangerous anti/trans and anti/drag laws. Russell has also announced a book deal with Flatiron/MacMillan for her debut novel, a memoir based on her life and the material that inspired Outside Child and The Returner.

Allison Russell will be on tour throughout the summer and fall in support of The Returner including two nights next week spent at The Gorge Amphitheatre supporting Joni Mitchell’s performance. She  was also a part of the band for Mitchell’s historic Newport Folk Festival 2022 return. Other highlights include Black Deer Festival, Farm Aid, Glastonbury, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival, WXPN’s XPoNential Festival and a UK tour in support of Hozier. Full Tour Dates are listed below.


Photo Credit: Dana Trippe

Tour Dates:
* = w/ Brandi Carlile & Marcus Mumford
% = The Joni Jam w/ Joni Mitchell
^ = supporting Hozier

June 09 – The Gorge Amphitheatre – Quincy, WA*
June 10 – The Gorge Amphitheatre – Quincy, WA*%
June 17 – Black Deer Festival – Chatham, UK
June 18 – Noches Del Botánico – Madrid, SPAIN
June 21 – Band on the Wall – Manchester, UK
June 22 – The Bullingdon – Oxford, UK
June 23 – Glastonbury – Somerset, UK
June 25 – Queens Park Big Top – Glasgow, UK^
June 27 – Gleneagle Inec Arena – Killarney, IRELAND^
June 30  – Malahide Castle – Dublin, IRELAND^
July 02 – The Piece Hall – Halifax, UK^
July 05 – Tønder Festival Friendly Takeover – Copenhagen, DENMARK
July 10 – Festival d’été de Québec – Hydro Québec Stage – Québec, CANADA
July 14 – RBC Ottawa Bluesfest – Ottawa, CANADA
July 15 – SOMMO Festival, Cavendish, CANADA
July 22 – Appalachian Summerfest – Boone, NC
July 27 – River & Blues Concert Series at Rockefeller Park – New York, NY
July 28 – Ossipee Valley Music Festival – South Hiram, ME
July 29 – Out of Space – Evanston, IL
Aug 04 – Kaslo Jazz etc Summer Music Festival – Honeymoon Bay, CANADA
Aug 06 – Canmore Folk Music Festival – Canmore, CANADA
Aug 12 – Burnaby Roots and Blues Festival – Burnaby, CANADA
Aug 13 – Regina Music Festival – Regina, CANADA
Aug 17 – Whistler Summer Concert Series – Whistler, CANADA
Aug 18 – Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival – Salmon Arm, CANADA
Aug 20 – Catbird Music Festival – Bethel, NY
Aug 26 – Badlands VanFest – Drumheller, CANADA
Aug 27 – Harbour Blues ‘n Roots Festival – Victoria, CANADA
Sept 09 – Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival – Bristol, TN
Sept 15 – Harvest Music Festival – Fredericton, CANADA
Sept 16 – CityFolk Festival in Ottawa, CANADA
Sept 22 – FreshGrass Festival – North Adams, MA
Sept 24 – XPoNential Music Festival – Camden, NJ

The Returner – Track List:

  1.   Springtime (04:11)
  2.   The Returner (03:51)
  3.   All Without Within (03:13)
  4.   Demons (04:29)
  5.   Eve Was Black (06:04)
  6.   Stay Right Here (04:10)
  7.   Shadowlands (04:13)
  8.   Rag Child (03:04)
  9.   Snake Life (04:38)
  10. Requiem (06:14)

The Returner – Credits: 
All songs written by Allison Russell, JT Nero, and Drew Lindsay
Co-Producers: Dim Star and AR
Recorded by Brandon Bell at Henson Recording Studios (Los Angeles, CA)
Assistant Engineer: Kelsey Porter
Mixed by Brandon Bell at The Cabin Studio (Nashville, TN)
Mastered by Kim Rosen at Knack Mastering (Ringwood, NJ)

Allison Russell (vocals, banjo, clarinet), Elenna Canlas (keyboards/synth, backing vocals), Elizabeth Pupo-Walker (percussion), Chauntee Ross (violin, backing vocals) & Monique Ross (cello, backing vocals) aka SistaStrings, Ganessa James (bass, backing vocals), Joy Clark (guitar), Kerenza Peacock (violin), Larissa Maestro (cello, backing vocals), Lisa Coleman (piano), Mandy Fer (guitar, backing vocals), Meg Coleman (drums), Meg McCormick (guitar), Wendy Melvoin (guitar, bass), and Wiktoria Bialic (drums). Special guests Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, and Hozier provide backing vocals on “Requiem”.

Notes on Allison Russell’s The Returner
By Hanif Abdurraqib

The book I loved most as a child was The People Could Fly, Virginia Hamilton’s book of black folktales about not only escape, but the brilliance of life beyond whatever was left behind. The cover, a group of black folks in colorful headscarves and tattered but well-fitting suits, ascending beyond the clouds, into a sky that was blue, and tilting towards orange. It is what some would consider to be a children’s book, or a book suited for a child’s imagination. But the child’s imagination is not far from where we, grown folks in an ever-burning atmosphere, return to. Another escape, if you will.

I believe Allison Russell to be a writer in many traditions, but I am now, upon sitting with the beauty of The Returner, considering Russell in the tradition of Virginia Hamilton. Hamilton, a black woman writer who understood the urgency of the times she was living in and responded in an urgent fashion. Urgency, not in a sense of frantic output, or exhortations of chaos. But urgency in building a different version of events and bringing as many people into the world as possible. Whoever wants to come along is welcome to come along.

While I hesitate to say that anything comes easy to a writer, but it does feel especially challenging to situate oneself in the present. The past is a place rich with both the fluorescence of nostalgia and the challenges of our own memory, and the future is, to some degree, unknown. Can be written by us as we tumble towards it. The Returner is an achievement for how it sits, firm and unflinching, in the present, or in a space that demands the present be something beyond simply discomfort. I take seriously the charge of song lyric-as-poetry, which is one way of saying that while I do like the idea of the lyric overrun with literary devices, it doesn’t do as much for me if the devices aren’t grounded in some kind of narrative blooming. Allison Russell is, in my mind, a writer’s writer. It is wonderful to read and apply what one loves about literature to the work of a song, but it is another thing to think of the song as a piece of literature, the two inextricably linked in both approach and execution. And so, a song like “Eve Was Black,” wherein the biblical callback goes a step further, channeling an origin story of rage, of dismissal, reformatting of a holy text to map it upon present tension.

On Outside Child, Russell’s heavily lauded 2021 debut solo effort, there was a reckoning with all that her past self-made it through. It was a daring, brave album. One where the speaker in the songs is both child and survivor, looking back on the child’s life. And, still, for all of Outside Child’s bravery, The Returner rises to an equal challenge of brave ambition. After not only presenting that history of a self to the world, but untangling it on her own, Russell made an album that brings her back to her present self. One that delights in her present self. And album that is abundant in scope, in color (sonic color and vocal color, but also, very plainly, in its stunning album cover,) and abundant in possibility for a variety of next turns.

I am overjoyed by the act of communal singing, and even more so when it just so happens to be black folks in communion doing the singing, shouting, clapping, stomping, and whatever else moves them to make noise. The Returner, for all of its gifts, is an album that feels like an invitation, the way walking by a loud, boisterous church service where the praise and worship spills out into the sidewalk might seem like an invitation, even if you aren’t the churchgoing type, but you just don’t want to miss a good time, a loud time. This is an album of beautiful, holy noise. You can hear individual notes of laughter, you can hear each individual voice reaching for the next individual voice to link hands with and ascend.

I am not much of a fool for optimism, but I am always seeking some optimisms within very specific truths. One of those being how do we, as people, pour generously back into ourselves in the midst of a world, a time, an ongoing era that takes and takes, relentlessly. It happens in small bursts, I think. Short paths, maybe, but wide ones. That’s where freedom lives. A place where you have survived and what you survived isn’t left behind, but it also isn’t the burden it once might have been. How fitting, that the album begins with the luminous “Springtime,” Russell singing so long / farewell / adieu adieu / to that tunnel I went through. And from there, light floods in.


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