Canada’s Christa Couture's latest album’s central theme is that of the break-up of her marriage but it’s a far cry from the usual break-up album formula. The twelve original songs are, for the main part, upbeat and full of hooks. Even when Couture slows the tempo the pretty melodies shine through making this a rare thing indeed when tackling such a subject. There’s a positive feeling running through the whole album, and the music is uplifting, often at odds with the lyrics.
Couture has had more devastating events in her life, some of which she has chronicled over her previous albums; her teenage battle with cancer which resulted in the loss of her left leg and losing both her young children at different times, so the break-up of a marriage, although as painful as that might be, was just the latest in a line of events that one person alone should not have to suffer. Considering that Couture survived those previous tragedies and went on to create some great art from her misfortunes, it should come as no great surprise that the unfortunate break-down of her marriage should be another setback that it appears Couture has overcome with her usual grace and given hope and inspiration to others through the music which is the result of the hardships that have plagued her life.
Maybe a little of why the songs are so upbeat is displayed on ‘If I Still Love You’ where Couture reveals that she wants to remain friends with her ex. Like all the songs on ‘Long Time Leaving’ the song is lyrically strong, “I remember when we lost it/There was a bridge and I didn’t cross it/Oh the cab fare to get there was a dime that I couldn’t spend” might well indicate that the listener is in for a sorrowful, downbeat soul-searching few minutes, but the song opens with producer Steve Dawson’s blazing guitar, picking out a melody that is simply irresistible and which immediately pulls you into the song. Once Couture’s warm, sweet vocals arrive you’re totally drawn in. Along with the former rhythm section from Blackie And The Rodeo Kings, bassist John Dymond and Gary Craig on drums, Dawson creates the perfect settings for Couture’s tales. The sympathetic production is bright but never sharp, and Juno-winner Dawson has cloaked even Couture’s most complex lyrics (opener ‘The Slaughter’ with its almost-whispered vocals, outstanding guitar runs and compelling melody is the perfect example of this) with such musically rich arrangements the whole album is constantly throwing up surprises long after the first listen.
It’s difficult to place Couture with any other singer-songwriters. While many have compared her music to many of the greats, usually when an artist stands out from the crowd their music can take time to make an impression but Couture’s melodies are accessible from the first listen. Vocally she has a distinctive voice of her own which grabs the attention long before her smart word-play becomes the focus of the listener’s attention.
Songs such as ‘Separation/Agreement’, however, tug at the heartstrings immediately due to Couture’s lyrics. Opening with just that crystal clear voice and her piano, Couture paints the picture so vividly: “The hallways are neatly lined with boxes stacked/This is what eight years looks like packed/ And it’s difficult to know how to divide which ghosts are yours and which are mine.” With Dawson’s lap steel and electric guitars picking out yet another appealing melody which perfectly compliment Couture’s lyrics, it’s further proof that this combination of artist and producer was meant to be.
There are a few times when Couture’s past working in films, television and musical theatre is apparent, ‘Zookeeper’ is one example where Couture’s theatre past creeps in. But if there is one song that shines just a little more brightly than the other little gems which make up ‘Long Time Leaving’ it has to be ‘In the Papers’, its rolling piano and again Dawson’s musical touches adding, along with haunting backing vocals from Couture, texture to this tale of a night on the town. Again, with almost whispered vocals Couture’s tale unfolds, the vivid images that her lyrics convey are coloured further by the musical backing, and it all adds up to a remarkable performance.
‘Long Time Leaving’ is an honest, musically rich album that is instantly likeable. As further plays are unavoidable due to the rich tapestry that her music weaves and the urge to hear more of the same, it is inevitable the album will quickly become a daily listen. I doubt that we’ll hear another album that has its origins in that of the break-up album category which will leave the listener in such a feel-good state of mind.