Originally written for folkalley.com
Let’s start with the community Rose Cousins employed to help her out with her latest album, We Have Made a Spark. The Nova Scotian songwriter has a group of friends and supporters in Boston – Rose Polenzani, Mark Erelli, Kris Delmhorst, and others – who came together to fill out her songs on this beautiful, arresting, emotive disc full of sad songs.
Much has been made of that community, and the impressively successful Kickstarter supporters (another kind of community) who gave their dollars to ensure this project and an accompanying short film came to fruition. So I’ll mention that – it’s definitely worth mentioning – but there’s much to say about the music itself.
The songwriting, for example.
Cousins is one of my very favorite songwriters. Her allegiance to nuance is incredible. Her poetic impulse seems effortless. (Though, I know well, nothing in writing or the creation of art ever happens without great effort.)
The disc comes with an epigram from poet Wendell Berry whose second line is the most telling: “To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight.” It’s this concept which has inspired and influenced generations of not only artists but philosophers, theologians, and all sorts of seekers of truth – a deliberation toward exploring life’s less light and comfortable moments. It’s this exploration of darkness, in fact, which makes music in particular – and in general – profound.
Cousins sings right off the bat, “you can’t keep the darkness out.” This is the sort of truth for which we all turn to music – that admission of life’s hardships which reminds us we’re not the only one in the dark. In fact, as Cousins notes in the film accompanying this record, the fact you can’t hide from life’s enveloping darknesses is the foundation of community.
We know from her previous efforts that Cousins is highly capable of making the songs work on her own. Her voice is provocatively focused and clear, her melodies alluring, her lyricism astute. That’s all you need to make a song work. But, the point of this record is not simplicity – it’s gathering. As she sings in a particularly lovely duet with Mark Erelli, “I’ll wait for you. Should I fall behind, wait for me.”
Indeed, when you can’t see around you, for all the apparent darkness, it always helps just to know someone else is there. Someone with whom you can make a spark.