I’ve been living with this album for the last month and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it really. Christa Couture has endured more than her fair share of tragedy and heartbreak in her life having lost a leg to cancer when she was just a child and then losing two children in separate tragedies. You’d think then that perhaps that these grooves would be steeped in misery and loss but although the songs are barbed and sometimes bitter, the delivery is light and airy. Perhaps that’s just a defence mechanism or maybe that it’s not always true that artists reflect their pain through their art. Who knows?
What we have here though are a dozen songs that sit pretty firmly in the cute but cutting singer-songwriter category. You mighty think Kate Rusby, Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos and you’d get a feel for what’s on offer here. Christa’s voice is crystal clear and rings with emotion and everything is bright and shiny in terms of delivery. Musically it resides within the country field with a little gentle rocking thrown in to give the songs a little sonic edge. Thematically I guess you might call this a break-up album with songs about hurting, learning and moving on. Make no mistake though there’s some bitter bites here to as ‘Solid Ground’ opens by drawing blood with a barbed throwaway “My heart is filled with arsenic and it seeps out from time to time in these lines/but I can offer plenty of reason for my seething but there’s never the time” where an appropriate response from the listener might be “ouch!”
The album’s opener, ‘The Slaughter’, set’s the mood for what follows and is a wistful melody with lush vocal reverb in which Christa describes post break-up dalliances with both women and men – and ponders queer identity, lust and exploration.
This is a mostly upbeat album filled with sweet soaring hooks, whimsical melodies, clever word-play and Christa’s trademark sweet, quirky vocals It is at times an album to sing along to, even an album to do housework too – something Christa says she was striving for – and an album about continuing to move forward in the aftermath of tragedy. Case in point is ‘When it Gets Dark Again’, a compassionate ditty with an “Ooo ooo ooo” chorus, about the times when binge-drinking is a perfectly understandable and forgivable response to pain.
‘Zookeeper’ is a darkly amusing, musical theatre-influenced escapade that compares the process of couple’s counselling to that of a zookeeper tending to wild animals. It has a lovely piano refrain and another sharpened lyric stating at the outset “I’ve not been keeping score/does the final tally matter anymore/Our Zookeeper’s getting bored/quietly waiting while the creatures are waiting”. I love a well crafted song that keeps you on the hook and there’s plenty of that here. ‘In the Papers’ is also a clever little ditty that is a fictionalized account of that feeling when you know everyone’s talking about you.
The musicians here are terrific here too with a small ensemble providing a subtle but warm atmosphere through some fine electric guitar and the required pedal steel weeping behind the vocal.
If you go for fine song writing with real bite heartfelt cutting vocals and classy but understated musicians then this is for you.