Rose Cousins opener Ken Yates introduced his second song by talking a little about the love/hate relationship he has with his hometown. Most of us could probably identify with that, especially if you’re from a small place and you move on to somewhere and you feel like you escaped that small place. But as Ken said; “it has a way of sucking you back in, and you start imagining yourself spending your life there”.
That’s kind of how I feel about East Coast music, being as I’m from there. I always seem to put my own ambitions on it, as if the East Coast artists aren’t “trying to be big”. It takes away a little of the enjoyment and pride I could be taking in it.
Enter Rose Cousins. I somehow did not know she was from PEI until the show. I’ve loved her music for a few years and couldn’t wait to see her live so this was to be a treat PLUS I got to see someone from “home” in a different setting.
Ken Yates was witty, engaging and it seemed like that’s just the guy he is. His voice is clear and evocative, with just enough grit to make his points. Halfway through ‘Grey County Blues’ I knew I would be listening to Ken a lot in the future.
A combination of hard times and community histories and love songs, Ken’s delivery and demeanour allowed us to visualise the places he was singing about. My favorites were the traveling song ‘Keep Your Head Down’ with it’s cutting lines like “this old highway’s one wrong turn from hell” and ballad ‘Leave Me The Light On’. The man has chops, I look forward to more from him.
NOW, Rose Cousins. I love when she does a cover because her choices inside the songs and her interpretations are always bold, but right for the song or the line and she makes the lyric sound like someone talking and trying to persuade you, she takes a familiar line and puts you in the middle of the conversation. So to open her set with Dreams by the Cranberries – I heard gasps in the audience, we were sucked in within the first line.
Rose admirably tried out her French and it was charming, welcoming us in and then hitting us over the head with ‘Freedom’ from her 2017 album Natural Conclusion.
‘Farmers Wife’ from her 2014 EP Stray Birds sees Rose move to the piano to talk a little about her old life in PEI, growing up on a potato farm. In her banter there are constant jokes, Rose has a really tough wit. In her playing though she destroys our hearts with her music. This thought could be repeated for her entire set, she disarms us and makes us laugh then she plays a song and effectively devastates us, and we love every minute. ‘Farmers Wife’ tells the story of a mother and a wife who works hard and sacrifices everything (and I don’t feel qualified to write about especially since her lyrics are so evocative).
What follow are songs she admits are written for other perspectives yet, in the end, seem to be about her working out her own life. I thought that was an honest and humble thing to say, but also pretty true to everybody, because why does anybody do anything, even unselfish things? Usually, I think it’s for ourselves. So I appreciate her saying that. I got a whole paragraph out of it. I’m a selfish bum.
Something I loved about her show was she unselfishly gave so much stage time and praise to Ken, her sideman on lap steel, and her old friend and newly a Montrealer, Tanya Davis.
Tanya is a very talented spoken word artist. She deftly describes the pangs of putting yourself out there in French when your French is still quite bad. The love you have for the people you want to communicate with and the commitment to continued effort and struggle. It was funny, with many in the audience turning to each other as if to say ‘I’ve done that, – yeah me too’. She followed that up with ‘To Do List (Before You Die)’, again very funny, delivered with flow. Funny and then life affirming, recurring themes this night.
Rose returns to the stage. Am I selfish if I wanted to stop reviewing and just listen? It was really hard to not just be sucked in. She had Ken come out to back her up on a superb version of ‘Grace’. She had audience participation on the footstomper ‘Chains’ and asked for requests (she did not pick mine, that’s okay, I felt like part of the show). When her microphone stand malfunctioned, she made a really quick phallus joke. She doesn’t care how hot it gets on stage she will not -repeat, will not -take off her jacket, it’s part of the outfit. This is live music ladies and gentleman!
The encore gave us two more highlights. She played her fantastic cover of Corey Hart’s ‘Never Surrender’ which was a request from earlier, nice! And then she brought out Ken for a cover of the Everley Brothers’ ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’. These two need to record together, I’m dead serious.
Rose Cousins I can’t wait to see what you bring to Montreal next!
Review – Mike Rogers
Photo – Steve Gerrard