Rose is Rose

With If You Were for Me, singer-songwriter Rose Cousins finally gets to make an album the way she wanted. Johnston Farrow finds out how.

Rose’s rose Rose Cousins releases her debut full-length this weekend. photo Francesca Tallone

Rose Cousins feels like throwing up. Although she has years of experience under her belt, she’s feeling a bit queasy with all that’s going on in her life surrounding the upcoming release of her first full-length album, If You Were for Me.

“It’s exciting but it’s also overwhelming,” the 29-year-old singer-songwriter says. “One, with the feedback I’ve been getting, and two, with all the things I need to do. My stomach has been hurting ever since I got the packaged discs back.”

She has more than a few reasons to be nervous. Cousins has jumped head-first into a career as a full-time performer. She’s about to embark on her first tour behind her latest disc, one of a long line of talent-filled albums produced by CBC Radio’s acclaimed Studio H. Other artists who received a jumpstart with Studio H recordings include Juno Award-winning blues artist Garrett Mason and former Coast cover star Jill Barber.

Originally from PEI, Cousins moved to Halifax more than a decade ago to attend Dalhousie University. She got her start playing in the fertile open-mic scene of the late ’90s, playing with other local talents such as Dale Letcher and Matt Mays. Although she had released two EPs, it wasn’t until a solo session on the CBC radio program Atlantic Airwaves that she got the opportunity to record her first full-length the way she always envisioned it.

“Glenn Meisner, a producer of Atlantic Airwaves, said, ‘Let’s do a session and see how it goes,’” says Karl Falkenham, Airwaves’s other producer. “As soon as we heard the tracks we knew that it had potential to be way more than a radio show. Once we talked to her, we realized our philosophies and thoughts on how this album should go were one and the same.”

Cousins liked the fit and headed into Studio H for an intensive period of recording last May with some of the best session musicians on the east coast. The band, including Dave Burton on drums, Jamie Gatti on bass and Ryan Roberts on acoustic guitar, laid down six tracks in two days.

“At the end of the first day, I ended up almost in tears and I was like, ‘I don’t even know what’s going on. I’m not sad about anything,’” Cousins says. “It’s a whole different kind of brain drain, using so much energy even though you’re not moving around. You’re hearing your own songs come to life—it’s really emotional.”

Jovial and prone to wisecracks in person, If You Were For Me divulges the more complex layers of Cousins—introspective, observant and sensitive. A tinge of sadness in the music, as on “Edmonton,” “Dance if You Want To,” and the title track, goes well with the folk undertones and draws the listener into Cousins’s world.

“As human beings, we go through such a range of emotions,” she says. “I hope this record helps exorcise some of the lonesomeness that exists in people. Let’s not ignore it because it’s a beautiful thing as well.”

If You Were For Me recalls the best of Cousin’s influences, Patty Griffin, Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin and Alison Krauss. The heartfelt and slightly maudlin lyrics are balanced by simple and effective melodies brought together Cousins’s gentle voice.

“It’s not every day you find someone who’s a very good singer,” Falkenham says. “There are a lot of people who write pretty good songs, but are they good singers? Well, Rose happens to be one of those people.”

That voice will be on display Wednesday at the Sir James Dunn Theatre when Cousins’s journey from local singer-songwriter to ambassador for east coast acoustic music begins. She follows her CD release show with a tour of eastern Canada, then a trip to the US, topped by another release show in Boston, where she’s already gained a following in the folk scene.

“I don’t know about all of the things I necessarily dream about, but every once in awhile they present themselves,” Cousins says. “I’ve been singing these songs for a while, but to be able to have a record to be singing from, I’m kind of a little bit scared about what could happen. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to contain myself to be really present, but I’m really looking forward to it.”

Rose Cousins w/Ray Legere, September 6 at sir james Dunn, 6101 University, 8pm, $15, 494-3890

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