There are times when our individuality should be embraced and celebrated.
Other times, well, being part of something greater, larger than ourselves is craved.
For much of her career, Canadian singer-songwriter Rose Cousins was a solo artist, made her name with her singular voice and gone it alone.
Now, though, the Juno-winning artist has continued further into a more collective approach to making music.
Yes, she still maintains control of her voice in song and her latest album Natural Conclusion bears only her name, but for her it’s all contributing to something greater.
“I’m feeling pretty proud of being a part of it, it’s really cool,” Cousins says of the album, her fourth full-length studio offering.
She doubles down when it’s pointed out that she might be underselling her role in the record, offering simply that she “curated the project,” which was recorded in Toronto with producer Joe Henry and a group of musicians brought into the fold by both.
However it was arrived at, it is, in a word, stunning.
Natural Conclusion is a gorgeous, intimate whisper of an offering that sends a shiver with each passing moment, each breath and heartbeat that bring it to life.
And in the context of Cousins’ career it is, itself, a singular entity, something that stands alone in sound and tone and emotion.
The approach, though, is merely an extension of its folkier predecessor, 2012’s We Have Made A Spark, which earned her that Juno for Solo Roots and Traditional Album of the Year — despite the fact it was recorded with a group of songwriting friends in Boston.
That she would do something in a similar vein is surprising only when you hear there was a point where Cousins was uncertain that there would even be a follow-up.
She admits the cycle for Spark saw her touring incessantly and “working myself into the ground.” The professional payoff was there, but she wasn’t sure if it was physically and emotionally worth it.
“When it came to do another thing I was trepidatious,” she admits.
“I was kind of like, ‘Oh, God, I don’t know if I can do it again.’ But trusting my own compass all the time … there was a moment that revealed itself, where I was like, ‘OK, I am going to consider doing this. Let’s begin that process.’ …
“I feel like what happened was supposed to happen.”
As to what that moment was, she points to a songwriting trip to L.A. in early 2015 — one of many she had gone on in various centres around the globe — where, before she headed out to work with another artist, she wrote the song Chosen.
The track, which would eventually become the album opener, “felt really different and really vulnerable and really true to how I was feeling. And I was like, ‘Whoa, that sounds like the beginning of another chapter for me.’ ”
From there, it was only a matter of following that muse to its, er, Natural Conclusion.
The first person she brought onboard to help was Henry, whom she’d met in 2012 and had been “fostering this beautiful friendship in the years leading up to me asking him” to produce her work. It was a no-brainer for both.
“He’s an incredibly magical human being, almost so much that you wouldn’t think that he’s human,” she says. “He’s kind of a unicorn.
“He just knew the vulnerability I was feeling with these songs. And knowing the importance that he feels about poetry and melody and making something as how it was supposed to be made, as opposed to maybe other producers that want to put their stamp on it, he was just the right character for this group of songs, and I feel really lucky that I was able to have worked with him on it.”
So the pair and a surprisingly large contingent of musicians, which included his longtime collaborators Ryan Freeland, Jay Bellerose and David Piltch and her friends from the Canadian community such as Jill Barber, pianist Aaron Davis and Miranda Mullholland from the Great Lake Swimmers, hit the studio, banging out the album’s 12 beautiful tracks and a couple extras in a mere four days — two fewer than they had allocated and booked.
The sessions and entire vibe Cousins admits were as effortless, remarkable and memorable as Natural Conclusion itself.
“It was just absolutely transcendental for me,” she says. “The musicians that we had brought together really elevated the experience for me and created an opportunity to step up, I thought.”
Which is why her tour, which she’ll bring to town for a pair of shows at the Ironwood Wednesday and Thursday, will feature Cousins performing the material from the album in a five-piece configuration.
As the songwriter has discovered over the past few years: being an individual is good; being part of something greater can make it that much better.
“Having that communion onstage is just such a privilege,” she says.
Rose Cousins performs Wednesday and Thursday at the Ironwood. For tickets and reservations call 403-269-558.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on at Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He likes beer. Buy him one.