When I tell Allison Russell that I think her band Po’ Girl has a slightly sloppy feel to it, I am instantly sorry for not having chosen a better adjective. “We’re much more driven by feel,” she says via phone from Chicago. I tell her that I’m thinking sloppy in a good way, in terms of the Band or Bob Dylan. It’s a groove that I like, I tell her. Russell laughs and says that the rough edges in their music aren’t put there intentionally. She uses words like warm and organic to describe their studio vibe. “The problem with digital recording,” she says, “is that it encourages musicians to make everything pristine, and that’s not how people sound.”
Po’ Girl is a Canadian singer/songwriter group. Together since 2003, they are currently at work on their fourth album. Russell sings and plays clarinet, banjo, and guitar. “There’s three to five members in the band, given the size of the tour budget,” she tells me. The band revolves around three core members: herself, her partner Awna Teixeira (Awna shares in the singing and songwriting and plays everything from electric bass to accordion), and multi-instrumentalist Benny Sidelinger. “There will be four on this tour,” Russell says.
I ask her to define the Po’ Girl sound. “I have such a hard time with that,” Russell replies. When pressed, she comes up with urban roots. “Roots describes music that’s written from a personal point of view.” What I hear are vampy rags that, along with the instrumentation, lend a speakeasy, Orleans-ish feel. The vocals are gorgeous little infusions of desperation and soul. Russell says she got the bug to make this blend of music after hearing a collection of Smithsonian recordings of vintage blues artists. Otherwise, she says, her upbringing was on classical music. “In our house, anything written after 1850 was questionable.”
PO’ GIRL, AcousticMusicSanDiego, Thursday, May 1, 7:30 p.m. 619-303-8176. $15 to $45.