Credit: Marc Baptiste/Allison Russell
Music by Josh Hurst

Best Albums of 2021: Allison Russell | Outside Child

January 8, 2022

#5.The subtext of Outside Child, the solo debut from Allison Russell, is trauma — childhood abuse, cyclical violence, life as a teenage runaway. But the heart of this album is set on themes far more redemptive — surviving, healing, not allowing your whole life to be defined by the worst thing that ever happened to you. (As Russell once sang with her great band Birds of Chicago: “You are not what you’ve lost / what remains should not bear the cost.”) It’s an album of devastating recollection and astonishing courage. But what stands out the most is its surprising hopefulness. Russell is a luminous witness, lingering not so much on the grisly details of trauma but on what can happen next. Despite the wounds she still carries, what she manifests here is wholeness.

Produced with soulful warmth and resonance by Nashville pro Dan Knobler, Outside Child assembles familiar forms into vivid album-length storytelling: You’ll hear rock and roll, blues, even trance reveries coalescing into a singular narrative. The heroic Russell is always the magnetic center, yet there isn’t a moment in her story that doesn’t feel open-armed in its embrace of those who have known similar suffering. Some of the album’s most powerful moments come when Russell addresses the lives of others. She is tenderhearted in her advocacy for other women whose lives have been shattered. And she is willing to speak a benedictory word over the man who abused her. Perhaps her blessing does not amount to forgiveness — that’s Russell’s business alone — but it is certainly an act of kindness. And strength.