- February 21, 2020
- Kim Ruehl
- Album Reviews
by Kim Ruehl (@KimRuehl), Folk Alley
Rose Cousins has, over the course of eight albums, developed a consistent track record of deeply emotional, often painfully honest, catchy songs. Though she has toyed with theme and concept, her recordings have followed a certain formula that will make them recognizable to fans as standard singer-songwriter fare: Songs the artist wrote over a specific period of time, occasionally thematically linked, hopefully depicting some kind of creative and/or personal growth since the last time they entered the studio.
And while her ninth release, Bravado, certainly contains its share of painfully honest, catchy songs, it does not fit the standard formula.
The sequencing feels a little choppy, for starters. There is no easy slide from one song to the next. It’s jostling and somewhat disorienting but not in a way that discourages the listener. In fact, as the album plays out, it all starts to feel a bit intentional, like the rough ride to the top of the mountain. There is, after all, no smooth and easy way to be a human with emotions. Sometimes we’re all over the place.
Besides, these are all really good songs.
The title track is a tongue-in-cheek thesis statement offset by more emotional tunes like “The Swimmer” and “The Fraud.” The latter is a free-flowing dialogue between cello and piano, offering no aural resolution against its profound emotionalism. And it dumps us into sarcasm (bravado?) with “The Time (Impending Mortality Awareness Society).”
By this point, it feels as though we are being treated to two battling sides of a single person’s psyche: the one with emotions and the one that wants to hide behind bravado. (Indeed, that is precisely the thesis the title song lays out, at track 2.)
Just as it all starts to feel confusing, Cousins drops the strongest song, “The Return (Love Comes Back Around).” Lyrically, it toys with how powerful we wish we were versus how powerful we can actually be if we just lean on love. It’s a lovely sentiment, beautifully delivered, wrapped in delightful poetry and tied with a bow of perfect dynamics. And it reframes the rest of the album, which then begs one to go back and listen to the whole thing again.
The disc opens with a recording of “The Benefits of Being Alone” that seems tailor-made for radio. It’s a little silly, surrounded by punchy horns and a comfortable 4/4 snare rhythm that only occasionally veers toward a cymbal for a single beat. It’s a perfect pop song, hinting at loneliness but only through sarcasm and a catchy hook—pay no attention to the melancholy dripping from the singer’s voice.
When the song reappears in the penultimate track (“The Reprise”), Cousins is alone at a piano, sounding more honest, like an actual human exploring actual emotions. Suddenly the silliness of the pop song gives way to the two-sided coin of autonomy and loneliness. Indeed, these things are universal, mortal, inextricable.
Suddenly we’re in a friend’s kitchen. The friend is not alone. Life and children swirl around her as the singer observes.
I envy your steadiness, you envy how I roam
And how brave I am to sing about it all on microphone
No matter, baby, that’s what makes the show
The benefits of being alone
It’s snarky and wry. It is where the humorous banter of Cousins’s live show finally sneaks into her songwriting—no small task. The fact that Cousins includes both versions of the song within the same album bears comment, as this juxtaposition is the presumed theme. And anyway, this is what we can do with music: Hide behind it or allow it to be a vehicle for truly seeing each other.
Press play and see what you can find. If it starts to feel like too much, don’t worry. It’s just emotion.
THU 5 MARCH
The Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, ON, Canada
FRI 6 MARCH
National Arts Centre, Ottawa, ON, Canada
THU 19 MARCH
Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Halifax, NS, Canada
FRI 20 MARCH
Wilmot United Church, Fredericton, NB, Canada
SAT 21 MARCH
Confederation Centre of the Arts, Charlottetown, PE, Canada
FRI 3 APRIL
The Ark, Ann Arbor, MI, US
WED 8 APRIL
Oberon, Cambridge, MA, US