Sadly, they’re not together. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Who do I have to bribe to make that happen? Ahem.
There’s a new Rose Cousins album out! OK, it’s only an EP, and it’s only got two original tracks, but it’s an excellent little snack while we wait for a real new album. The real treats are the covers of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” Unfortunately there don’t seem to be any of the tracks up on YouTube yet, and I don’t have time to violate copyright on my own, so (1) go buy the EP and help support Canadian music, and (2) please enjoy this version of “By Way of Sorrow” (originally by Julie Miller) as performed by the Wailin’ Jennys:
It’s been a good few weeks for music. Back at the end of August I found out, on about three hours notice, that Ruth Moody was playing at the Butchart Gardens. Ruth’s come to Victoria at least twice since last fall and I’ve missed all the shows, so it was really cool to discover, with very little time to prepare, that she was playing and I could actually make it. I was happy we made the effort: it was my son’s first concert, he did really well despite only being nine months old, and listening to great music while sitting on the grass on a pleasant late summer’s evening — I’m hard pressed to think of what might have been a nicer way to spend a couple hours. (Well, strictly speaking I can think of a nicer way to spend an evening, but I don’t have a night rating.) Ruth and her band did a nice mix of tracks from “The Garden” and “These Wilder Things,” along with a couple of covers, and she was kind enough to give the stage over to her band to let them play some of their own stuff. It’s not often you find yourself wishing the band would play more than the frontman or -woman, but in this case I was really impressed with the talent they showed, and when I learned that some of them were coming back to play their own shows later in the week I was disappointed when my schedule didn’t allow me to see them.
Ruth Moody is, by the way, really nice — at least by meet-the-artist standards. We had a pleasant chat about how she likes playing in Victoria, and she signed a copy of “The Garden” for my son to commemorate his first trip to see live music. I doubt he’ll ever care — by the time he’s old enough to understand we likely won’t own any devices to play CDs — but I care, and it was a nice thing.
Thursday was the show I’d been waiting for since back in the spring: the inaugural performance of Jann Arden’s new tour. Now, I ran out and bought “Time For Mercy” was back in (OH MY FRICKING GOD) 1993, so you might be inclined to think I was excited because it was time for #janntour. Nope. I uncomplainingly shelled out $80/ticket so I could see Rose Cousins play as the opening act. It’s the third time since 2012 I’ve seen Rose play live, and the first time since the early 1990s that I went to a show specifically to see the opener. In that case, I bought Bruce Cockburn tickets even though I wasn’t, and am still not, a huge Bruce Cockburn fan; I wanted to see the woman who was opening for him, who was… Jann Arden. So there’s a nifty kind of symmetry that I didn’t even realize until just now.
It pleases me that Rose is playing in front of bigger and more diverse audiences; Jann’s fans are probably predisposed to like someone like Rose, even if they’ve never heard of her. The last couple of shows in Victoria might have had a combined audience of 60 people, so seeing her with a full house at the Royal was different. She’s an absurdly talented musician, who deserves every accolade and then some (seriously, Canada, get with the program here and go buy her records already), and her live shows are a glorious combination of sad music and stand up comedy. At the same time, I sort of wonder whether a full set at the Royal would be the same as the sets I’ve seen her play in the smaller venues: there’s something intimate and close and friendly about those tiny shows, and although I’d love to see her ascend to giddy heights of fame I’d be a bit sad if I had to see her with a couple hundred other people.
The intimacy of the other venues produces some interesting side effects. After being dragged to a couple of shows where I would skip out and head home afterwards, K. had had enough. “You’re at least going to say hello,” she told me, and so it was that I found myself at intermission standing by the merch table waiting for Rose to come out. Eventually, K. introduced herself and then me: “This is my husband. He’s… a bit star-struck.” Rose looked at us, and said, “I’ve met you guys before, right?” “No.” “Well, I’ve at least seen you at the other shows here, right?” Oh shit. I gushed a bit — at my age, it’s a bit unseemly to be a fanboy of anything, but as you can probably tell I’m a huge fanboy of her music, and I said so. It was a bit embarrassing, but she seemed genuinely touched and said that it was nice to hear. I also told her that I thought she should do a live album until an all-new album is ready, and that I would Kickstart the shit out of that project. Oh, who am I kidding? I’d Kickstart the shit out of any project she was involved with.
Jann Arden has taken on an outsized role in Canadian culture over the past few years, and she’s perfect for it. I remember the early concerts and it’s pretty remarkable to see how much more comfortable she’s been with this personality she’s crafted for herself. I have no idea how much of it is her, and how much of it is an act, but it looks fucking effortless and you should be impressed with that. Thursday was the third or fourth time I’d seen her play (I’ve lost count), and the shows keep getting better and sharper and noisier, all of which is good. Jann is a deeply funny performer, in a different way from Rose, but you can totally see why the two of them are touring together right now, and how much would you want to be on that bus? During the show she managed to single out a 12-something year-old girl, and every time references to drugs or smoking or dying came up, someone handed Bella $20 (she probably went home $80 richer) — maybe you had to be there, but it was hilarious at the time. It’s stupid for me to say this because the two of them are so frequently associated in public, but she’s like a singing version of Rick Mercer with better hair — she’s just this goofy, likeable person. It’s impossible to see her live and not come away smiling. The music was the music. You know what Jann Arden sounds like. You either like her stuff or you don’t, and about all I can really say about it anymore is that it’s getting louder and more interesting.
The live show is getting more interesting, too. As with Ruth Moody, Jann has surrounded herself with some truly remarkable performers. Krystin Osborn, her backing vocalist, I sort of knew about, but the real revelation Thursday was Allison Cornell, who played a whole bunch of instruments and sang harmony on a few tracks, and the first time that woman opened her mouth my jaw hit the floor. Holy crap. I spent the rest of the show waiting to see what she’d do next, and as part of the encore I watched her and Jann and the rest of the band cover Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” with a banjo and turn it into a kind of bluegrass thing. What the fuck. Mindblowing is about all I can really say.