Coco Love Alcorn at Hugh’s Room
Well, it’s been a while but the wait was worth it.
Coco Love Alcorn is back with a sparkling new album, Wonderland (which spent several weeks at or near the top of Canada’s folk charts), a grueling tour involving venues large and small and some choral surprises. I caught her set at Hugh’s Room, where she delighted a (sort of) home-town crowd.
Although she charts as a folkie, Coco’s music is hard to define. It’s joyful and optimistic but spare – usually a bit of rhythm, a touch of ukulele, the very occasional horn or strings, and that voice, that wonderful voice, layered through the wonders of looping technology, exhibiting influences of soul, hip hop, gospel, folk and pop. There’s some jazz there, too, which comes naturally to the daughter of accomplished jazz vocalist John Alcorn, and a comfort with improvisation and scat. There’s nothing scattered about it, though, and Coco’s great vocal gifts, her intelligence and sincerity and her love of the music knit everything together to wonderful effect.
She performed as a trio at Hugh’s, featuring a young rhythm section (Jon Foster on drums and Connor Walsh on stand-up bass), with her 5-track RC-505 looper an effective fourth member.
The first set was made up exclusively of tracks from her new Wonderland recording. Opener “Trouble” had a soul feel to it, with Coco’s effortless voice soaring over the room. “River” followed with its layered vocals and folkish intro. It could easily have been a track from O Brother Where Art Thou, sung by a trio, working into extravagant church-ish pyrotechnics. But Coco’s subtle and beautiful performance left us elevated and inspired. Little wonder that this track has been taken up by choirs across the US and Canada sometimes performing it with Coco.
“Tiny Lights” provided some light, at least a little, in a world gone scary and dark and gray:
Through love and play
We take a minute
We chase the shadows
In the grey
John Alcorn joined his daughter for the new album’s title song, “Wonderland”. He stuck with piano, but I would really have liked to hear him join Coco on vocals. It’s a fine song, a soulful thank-you for the joy found in the universe and to the all the good people around her. It would be especially well-suited to dueting. Maybe another time.
The second set featured some more songs from the album (“Roots and Wings” being particularly wonderful), but was centered more on older material. We heard “Revolution”, an alternate to “Tiny Lights” as a way of approaching current political conditions. Encore closer was “Intellectual Boys”, Coco’s paean to nerds everywhere, complete with hip hop touches and “big telescope” references. How many songs end with a shout-out to the erotic potential of the digits of pi? Love it!
Community and family matter a lot to Coco. Part of her name (and part of her daughter’s name) comes from a great-grandmother; her grandmother was a noted musician, composer and choir director; her father is a fine vocalist and musician; and she maintains a network of dedicated fans, many of whom want nothing more than to sing with her. These are her roots, but her music lets her fly.
We were entertained by her for a few hours; but we are privileged to be part of her community.