Feature

Rose Cousins makes a spark

Rose Cousins & Guests – The Rivoli, Toronto
Thursday, May 3rd

What is it about live music that gives us that added dimension of whatever-you-call-it, capable of more fully illuminating an artist and their work?

Had I reviewed Rose Cousins’ latest release, I might have disparaged it somewhat for what seemed like an absolute lack of light. It seemed to drag itself down by its own weight, stewed too long in its own juices. But then, exactly as its title promises, We Have Made A Spark.

Out of the murky depths rise songs all the more beautiful for their immersion from the din. On this occasion – in a room packed to the rafters – Rose Cousins delivered what her fans knew she’d deliver. And that almost insignificant spark was fanned to become a light so  bright it fully illuminated the room, penetrating all the souls within it.

It’s so fulfilling to watch a favourite artist come into full bloom. As Rose took the stage all by her lonesome, she seemed almost embarrassed to stand before a house so wall-to-wall full.

Beginning her set with Blue Rodeo’s “Five Days In May”, she was joined by Austin Nevins on guitar and atmospherics and Zachariah Hickman’s warm, acoustic bass for “The Darkness” – revealing the underpinnings of her most introspective release to date.

“The Shell” continued the somewhat dreamy sequence before Cousins made a beeline for the electric Yamaha – her ticket to balladry – as she kicked in with the deep, self-deprecating humour she is loved for.

“One Way” proved a highlight, aided by the rich tapestries issued from Nevins’ guitar. The comparatively upbeat “What I See” – outlining the perils of falling for another songwriter – quickly demonstrated Cousins’ ability to command a stage and her ease of adding so much of herself to each original.

Joined on stage by the beautiful voices of Oh Susanna/Suzie Ungerleider and Ruth Moody (Wailin’ Jennys), the song “All The Stars” transformed mere music into a transcendent collision of rich harmonies and strong, confident leads. Back to the piano – the instrument that brings out the absolute best in Cousin’s voice – “Go First” proved a powerful statement while Ana Egge’s “Shadow Fall” clearly upped the ante in her solo delivery.

The return of the band was marked by the addition of yet another sublime guest vocalist in Robyn Dell’Unto, while the four vocalists and the band took on “For The Best”, elevating the original, which is barely possible.

Clearly a lover of collaboration, Cousins lives the process and, surrounded by friends and confederates, the level of musicianship arced with the intensity of a welder’s torch.

Yet the brightest point in the evening came with the piano-based original, “All The Time It Takes To Wait”. The perfect foil for a perfect voice, Cousins unearthed its raw beauty, adding a sheen of pop elegance, resulting in a purely magical musical moment.

This was followed by the song that gave the album its title – a moment of clarity in the wee hours of morning, “This Light”.

Interjecting a quick, quirky bit of her exaggerated Maritime dialect about “the YouTubes”, breaking up the crowd, Cousins next broke into a gentle cover of a much-loved Springsteen song (“If I Should Fall Behind”), describing its considerable impact on her.

A thunderous applause brought Cousins back for a track from her first album, “Home” – performing it solo, her upper register revealing effortless power. The band returned with her guests for another quiet gem with its slow-breaking, lethal hook – “White Daisies”.

The grand finale came in the form of Adele’s “Rumour Has It”, which quickly evolved into a boisterous, full-fledged soul revue, with Cousins leading the pack like a Patti LaBelle understudy, kicking it up in the wet heat of a Bronx back alleyway. It was hard to determine who was having the most fun – except that the audience clapped the hardest.

Nobody could ask for more. This was something special for everyone involved.

Photography: E. Thom

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