Halifax’s Rose Cousins graced the City Stage under the hot 4 o’clock Sunday sun and delivered an hour-long set of emotionally charged songs that tugged on the heartstrings of the crowd. Dressed in black and sporting a pair of mirrored shades, she made her way to the piano where she began her unique take on the Gordon Lightfoot classic “If You Could Read My Mind” which can be found on her 2014 EP “Stray Birds”. Her solid yet tender textured voice fit the song’s stirring melody and she inserted some minor piano chords which further emphasized its haunting tone. It was a perfect introduction to her body of work which includes several albums and EPs over the past 15 years. Known for her beautiful song compositions and poignant lyrics, she took a break from her touring in 2013 to travel and collaborate with other musicians in the desire to broaden her songwriting palette. The result has been her current album, “Natural Conclusion”, which her hour-long set list mainly drew from.
She was then joined onstage by bandmates Josh Van Tassel on drums and guitarist Dean Drouillard. She moved from the piano and stood at the front of the stage to sing the powerfully potent “Freedom” which soared in its soft-strong tribal rhythms, spiritual quality, and lyrics that dug deep into wounded territory. Back to the piano she went to churn out the mournful yet staggeringly beautiful piece, “White Flag”. Bending guitar sustains and brush work on the drums added to the song’s woeful flavour. She followed it up with a very sentimental and textural number “Tender Is The Man” before heading into her delicate version of Bruce Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind”.
Cousins graciously thanked CityFolk’s sound and stage crew then introduced special guest Canadian singer-songwriter Jim Bryson to join her onstage for the next couple of songs. “Okay, let’s rip it!” declared Cousins. “I have my one rippin’ song and this is it!” She was referring to “Chains”, a sexy minor-chorded bit of bluesy-rock goodness where she showcased the tougher side of her voice. I loved its backbone groove, great guitar work by Drouillard, and was one I wished would have gone on a little longer.
The two switched spots where Cousins resumed her place on the piano for “Grace”, a song she described as being “deeply meaningful.” She’d also learned another version of it had been recently recorded by Lizz Wright, which was the first time anyone had ever covered her material. Bryson added some vocal harmonies to this emotionally charged song, but it was when Cousins sang out long repeated cries on the word “forgiveness” that my eyes filled with tears.
“We’re about to get really intense, then jazzy, then it’s gonna be fine,” quipped Cousins, whose dry wit she continually shared with the audience throughout the show. Just when I thought I could come up for air, she reeled me back in with the sorrowful, yet powerful “Like Trees.” She then paused to acknowledge the unceded Algonquin territory on which she stood and to tell of her experience on a trip from Labrador to Nunavut during the Canada C3 Expedition where she gained a deeper learning of our Indigenous peoples.
The magic of her music and voice, and the truthful poetry in her words, stayed with me long after the show had ended.
Next up, her jazzy piece “Lock and Key”, a blues-soaked tune riddled with intense builds, spoke of a double-edged kind of love with lines like “love is the cure, and the disease.” The crowd added their voices at Cousins’ request to the latter half of one called “Chosen”, another that swelled with rhythm rushes, and instrumental intensity. She then closed the set alone with a lovely folk piece entitled “Donoughmore”, her ode to the area of Ireland she’d visited. Here she wove between the mid-range tones of her voice into her crystal clear falsetto, accompanied by her beautifully written chord progressions. The magic of her music and voice, and the truthful poetry in her words, stayed with me long after the show had ended. It had been my first exposure to Rose Cousins, and had left me a diehard fan forever.
CityFolk runs from September 13-17, 2017 at Lansdowne. Visit https://cityfolkfestival.com for the lineup and schedule. Keep checking back for more Apt613 CityFolk and Marvest coverage and follow us on Instagram for the latest photos.