Amelia Curran – Watershed
Six Shooter Records – 2017
A Juno award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter, Amelia Curran is one of my favourite contemporary female vocalists and, since making her Barricades debut in 2000, she’s released a further six albums, all of which have been among the best of their year.
Watershed is her eighth and one that digs deeply into her work as an activist for mental health issues in the arts (she’s founder of the It’s Mental grassroots community in her hometown of St. John’s). She herself is a sufferer from what Winston Churchill described as the black dog of depression and which is at the heart of album opener, Move A Mile. It’s an instantly catchy, musically upbeat folk-rock number with tumbling chords about the struggle it takes to move forward (“it takes a lot of love to conquer hate, it takes a lot of races run to move a mile”).
Indeed, with electric guitars and snappy drums prominent, this is one of her more musically punchy outings, something that reflects the album title as a turning point. Indeed the track itself, one where the guitars are particularly upfront, is a call for action as she sings “I call time.”
Which chimes with Curran’s push for advocacy and acceptance both in mental health terms but also in a wider feminist-driven sense. This stance is embodied in No More Quiet, backed by brass flourishes, she confronts inequality and patriarchal tokenism (“the river has changed its direction, while I’ve had to move my own inflection”) while blues singer Shakura S’Aida lends her soulful vocals to the outro. Likewise, the chugging soaraway pop bounce of Gravity with its repeated title refrain as she sings how “a voice is a terrible thing to waste.”
Again, on Sunday Bride, which features forceful highlights from guitarist Dean Drouillard, the elliptical lyrics note “you can try and change their minds, you can try to compromise… one and one against the overflow.”
Often though, it’s a bit like beating your head against the wall, and her disillusion and frustration with the music industry is part of the album’s openness, underpinning slow swayer Try with its 60s soul-infused chorus and, more pertinently, Stranger Things Have Happened, a more musically toned down number with pulsing strings about the industry’s ever-changing trends as she asks “have I overstayed my welcome on the FM radio? ”
There are quieter moments elsewhere too. Despite the urgency of its muted backing, the tender Come Back For Me is a predominantly acoustic number, followed in a similar vein by the strings-coloured Act of Human Kindness, a fingerpicked song of empathy where those Suzanne Vega comparisons ripple to the surface. Likewise the album’s closing two tracks, the soft calm that enfolds the unification-themed coming together of Every Woman Every Man (I could hear this given a calypso treatment) and, with its spare undulating hand percussion, the crooning, lullaby-like You Have Got Each Other (”time is only temporary it cannot keep hold, love is only human we can’t do this alone”) where she sings about separating the changes from the letting go.
An album that calls to build a breakwater against the often self-inflicted attrition of the heart and human spirit, whether it becomes a defining moment or a breaking point in Curran’s career depends on the support the industry puts behind it. Either way, it’s a gem. “Did I capture some affection”, she asks. Show her some love.