Coco Love Alcorn has a few things going for her. The genetics for one don’t hurt. The daughter of Canadian jazz singer John Alcorn, she smoulders both vocally and physically. Rather than use her bee stung lips and sexual allure as a crutch her striking appearance fortunately coincides with a robust musical talent.
Outside of the family home she cultivated this talent in part at Boston’s Berklee College of Music where she was awarded a scholarship while still in high school. Her band makes for a nice snapshot of the West Coast music scene, a community we are increasingly hearing more from outside of the usual indy suspects (The New Pornographers, Pink Mountaintops). What seems clear is that just as Central Canada and its corridors of power determine the national political agenda, much to the consternation of increasingly affluent westerners, so is the national music agenda set in the Big Smoke.
Coco Love Alcorn, which is probably best thought of as a band as much as an artist (Love is actually her middle name), doesn’t have any of the trappings of indy rock acclaim (well maybe the name). That’s probably a good thing- you’re not likely to read about her in every music rag one month and then never again. She seems to follow after the mold of the chanteuse, the belter, and the hoochy coochy woman. Coco is a jazz singer.
That means she pounds it out on the road and in the studio. That means she needs to have a crack band at the ready and that she must rely on her wits as an entertainer as much as a performer. One could make a fair parallel to another female Canadian vocalist Kate Hammett-Vaughn, likely the most famous jazz singer proper in Canada outside of Diana Krall. Many make parallel’s to other snowbirds like Jane Siberry, Holly Cole and the big mama herself KD Lang. Coco has the same mass appeal and fortunately a fair bit more edge than that bunch. It’s likely also that her target audience is a good decade (or two) younger.
Outside of the Pacific coast scene (Coco is originally a Nova Scotia native) Coco is in fine company nationally with a handful of her own contemporary female singer songwriters (such as Julie Fader and Lily Frost with whom she has recently shared bills) living in the age AF: After Feist. Lily recently described her as "like Ella Fitzgerald and Tracy Chapman, except better 'cause she's right now." She seems to wear the Erykah Badu influence a little closer to the vest (“Sugar” the title track of her new album narrowly rides the line between homage and imitation). Coco acknowledges the debt, particularly the album Baduism introduced to her by her father, “I love, love, LOVE! Erykah.” Others might draw a parallel to the incredibly successful Ani Difranco who has herself cultivated an interest having discovered Coco at a performance at Toronto’s Cameron House
“During my set I did notice a woman (a beautiful woman) up near the front and to my left that was really listening and sending me a lot of energy and support. At the end of my five-ish song set she came up and said something nice. Then a bit later someone told me that I had just been talking to Ani Difranco. The funny thing was that I had just bought one of her records for the first time a few months earlier and had been listening to it a LOT.”
An invitation to tour in support of Ani later followed. Coco has also kept busy singing backing vocals for 54-40 as well as in opening slots for Chantal Kreviazuk and Burton Cummings (her music is also featured on television’s The L Word). That’s a grossly abbreviated list of affiliated talent one which her backing band adds to considerably. Keyboardist Chris Gestrin, who she’s know since her Berklee days, also plays with k-os, Kate Hammett-Vaughn and Loudon Wainwright III. Drummer John Raham plays in Kinnie Starr’s band (an artist with whom Coco shows a strong kinship) as well as The Be Good Tanyas and spin-off Po Girl. Likely the most accomplished musician in her group though is Vancouver’s Steve Dawson who has his own flank of fans in these parts (largely in the jazz community) for his work with Zubot and Dawson. “Steve plays probably 15 different stringed instruments... and plays them all ridiculously well”.
Pulling the album Sugar together involved tapping into Dawson’s production and playing instincts substantially. Coco even went with a bass player she wasn’t familiar with (Seattle’s Keith Lowe) at Dawson’s recommendation. “His credits include Fiona Apple and Bill Frisell, so he's no slouch!” Upon returning from Toronto for some label supported conceptualization in February of 2005 Coco was connected with Dawson who she knew socially to but never gigged with.
“Steve and I went out for a drink to chat about the kind of record we would make if we worked together. I think by about half way through the second beverage we knew we had to make a record together. We both wanted to hear it... so we had to make it.”
The resulting album Sugar is a thoroughly listenable if not cutting edge result, but there’s ‘too much blood on the cutting edge’ anyways as Nova Scotia’s Al Tuck sings. Coco has the voice, look and most importantly presence of a true Canadian star in a vein similar to Amanda Marshall. With the right push from her label there’s no saying we won’t be hearing her on the radio soon- just hopefully not quite as often.