At Toronto's Rivoli on Thursday, the singer-songwriter Amelia Curran was applauded and was worth the while. Big deal, you might say. And I would disregard your sarcasm, and say, yes, in fact, the deal is big – indispensable, even, thank you very much.
I had had a conversation earlier with the Juno-winning artist from St. John's. Her new album is Spectators, an affecting thing full of questions about what she, and others like her, are doing with their lives. "Am I wasting my time, am I wasting my time," Curran asks on Years, "in a bottle of bruises, on the words and the rhyme." And on the melancholic In a Town (200 Days), about losing one's place on the map: "I've been trying to stand higher, but I cannot say what it's worth; tomorrow is a sobbing siren singing at your door, builds a ship of both your eyes and leaves the rest of you ashore."
Asked about those lyrics and others, Curran spoke about the troubadour's dream "to create something new under the sun and make a difference in the world." She wasn't sure if there was anything left to create, and although she still wrote daily with a purpose (an act, she noted, that in itself proved that the dream still existed), Curran questioned if anybody really cared. And if they did, shouldn't they perhaps be more concerned with more pressing things. "Am I distracting the few," she wondered out loud, "from the needs of the many?"
About the needs of the many, a recent study commissioned by SOCAN (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada), reported that 85 per cent of Canadians said that music plays an important part in their lives, and that more people – 23 per cent – would rather have dinner with a musician than an actor (21 per cent), an athlete (18 per cent), a writer (13 per cent) or a politician (13 per cent).
Now, what this might tell us is that Gordon Pinsent, Sidney Crosby, Margaret Atwood and Justin Trudeau may need to commission their own studies. I doubt they dine alone much, nor should they have to.
But neither should Curran. She didn't seem so blue at all at the Rivoli, where she offered adult portions. With her she had a full band, even with a softly gusting horn trio at times. She has a folky siren style rooted in the late 1960s and 70s, here recalling the fluidity of a Don McLean, there the rhythmic grace of a Joni Mitchell. Her lyricism is striking; after the riveting drone of The Mistress, about those who are the third of three, Curran herself seemed to be taken aback by the song's force.
Opening the show was Andrew James O'Brien, a mellow, soulful rising star out of Newfoundland. It was his advice to "go all the way with your heart, the way that you planned it at the start," and to "live by the choices that you made."
At one point O'Brien spoke about Curran, saying that he had first met her at an East Coast Music Awards lunch, where he told her that her 2008 album War Brides had "changed his life."
And by "change," of course, he meant for the better.
Editor's note: The print version and an earlier online version of this story contained inaccurate information. This version has been updated.