Christa Couture’s new album is as difficult to sum up in a few words as the Mona-Lisa-like expression on her face on the cover shot.
To say that it’s about “maturing through loss” will sound terribly cliché to those unfamiliar with her story; Couture is an adolescent cancer survivor whose last album was inspired in part by the death of her infant son … and who has had to endure even more loss as she’s sought to get back on her feet.
And yet, to say it’s inspired by such tragedy leaves one singularly unprepared for the sound: bright, beautifully-orchestrated indie folk; sweet, idiosyncratic vocals reminiscent of artists like Regina Spektor and Jane Siberry; a luscious palette of sonic styles – fuzzy guitar, bluegrass-style pickin’, soulful cello, quirky chorus-like vocal arrangements and a touch of cabaret – and not a moment of self-indulgence to be found.
Produced by Steve Dawson, The Living Record is ultimately an album about living – the aftermath of loss interwoven with new wisdom and experiences.
The lead track and first single, “You Were Here in Michigan,” captures the moment Couture first felt happiness again, dancing naked in the rain at an American artists’ retreat. “Paper Anniversary,” a duet with Jim Byrnes, is an exquisite love song for Couture’s husband. And “Pussycat Pussycat” is a vampy recollection of the year Couture spent in London. And then there are the songs about carrying on. “Parasite” is an electric guitar-driven indie-roots-rocker about being haunted by the “what ifs.” “Pirate Jenny and the Storm” is a cabaret-style number, inspired by Couture’s childhood in musical theatre, that speaks of the memories she won’t get to share with her offspring. The closing track, “The Way of the Dodo (The Living Record)” is like a thesis statement for the album – a song about the lasting impression of those who are gone.
Yet, for as much heartbreak as Couture has endured, her life has been anything but two-dimensional.
She grew up in Edmonton with a mother who sang in a folk trio and a father who performed First Nations ceremonial music. She sang in choirs and performed in musical theatre, and then moved to Vancouver to study at Vancouver Film School. She worked in film and television for about a decade before returning to music and releasing Fell out of Oz in 2005. The album earned four stars from both TV Week and The Edmonton Sun, who wrote, “her and her guitar makes an almost unholy sound.”
Oz’s follow-up, The Wedding Singer and the Undertaker, won a 2008 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Best Folk Acoustic Album, and Couture was nominated for Best Female Artist. The album was Top 10 at CBC Radio 3 and went to #1 on the National Aboriginal Music Countdown. PopMatters praised her “Georgeously intimate voice – somewhere between the tough vulnerability of Amy Rigby and the passionate, sophisticated folk of Joni Mitchell.”
Of the album’s devastating inspiration, PopMatters wrote, “It’s truly remarkable that listening to The Wedding Singer and the Undertaker does not feel like the aural equivalent of ambulance chasing. This is down to Couture’s writerly, at times even playful, skill with words, as well as uplifting production.”
The same could just as easily be said about The Living Record, for while its story is uncommonly sad, it is transformed by Couture’s equally uncommon talent.