Allison Crowe’s “The Water Witch”

Singer-songwriter Allison Crowe, originally from BC but now living in Corner Brook, NL, recently reached out to let me know that she had recorded a new version of “The Water Witch,” a Newfoundland shipwreck song. In researching the song, she apparently found this site useful! I asked Allison if she’d be willing to respond to some questions via email about her recording.

Heather Sparling: Why did you pick this song to record, especially since it’s quite old and it’s been recorded before? Also, why this shipwreck song as opposed to the many, many others out there?

Allison Crowe: I think my first attraction, on a very surface level, was the name itself. The song’s title, “The Water Witch,” just kind of drew me in without me even knowing that it was a ship – and then after reading the lyrics and going through the history, it fascinated me. There’s also something about the melancholy of minor keys that always resonates with me – so the combo of story and song got my attention. I love covering beautiful songs like this.

HS: Where did you get the lyrics and melody for the song?

AC: The version I first heard of this song is by Patrick Moran (who himself hails from Pouch Cove) – it’s on YouTube. I do believe I first came across the lyrics and history on! Another great resource for me has been GEST Songs of Newfoundland and Labrador.

HS: Why did you arrange the song as you did? What kinds of decisions and thought-processes went into the arrangement?

AC: Dynamics are so important when it comes to music and lyrics. The song, as in the version by Patrick Moran, has parts where it builds up, parts where things drop off within the story, and parts that are super intense. It has others that are more narrative and from an outside voice, almost. I think it’s important in any song to match the music with those tides and to keep it moving and fluid. I was also experimenting with possible instrumentation from an arrangement perspective. (This recording is my solo version of an arrangement for a group performance – by cast-members of “Newfoundland Vinyl” at Gros Morne Theatre Festival.)

HS: What role do disaster songs play, particularly for contemporary singers and songwriters? Why do they remain important and popular to record?

AC: Simply, it’s important to keep history alive, and music is an excellent, intensely personal, and, at the same time, a universal way to pass on these stories to future generations.

HS: What other disaster songs did you know before recording this song? Do you have any other favourites?

AC: There’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” which is, of course, a very well-known song by Gordon Lightfoot – and there’s a song from a show in Cow Head at Theatre Newfoundland’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival called the “Wreck of the SS Ethie.” Those are what I think of off the top. :)

HS: Would you consider writing your own original disaster song? Why or why not?

AC: I think I would! I’d have to really seriously research it, of course, as I’m not comfortable writing about anything with which I’m not 100 percent acquainted one way or another, but I think, with a good deal of time, it could be very cool to compose a disaster song.

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