Amelia Curran's eighth album, Watershed, sees the St. John's songwriter's advocacy work with It's Mental spilling over more openly into her songwriting: Her songs are inhabited by the black dogs of depression; night and shadows creep into the day; there's a sense of being caught running in one place on more than one song, an overwhelming and lingering exhaustion.
It's tough to make a compelling album about experiencing slog, but I think that's what Curran set out to do here — to demonstrate what depression feels like and how universal it is. A watershed is a major turning point, and that's not the sense I get, unless the turning point is the open discussion of depression itself. I'm looking (as the New York Times recently mentioned Leonard Cohen framing it before he died) for the "emergency" in Curran's work, but perhaps it's not a single moment, her emergency — it might be a whole lifetime.
Kudos to Curran for calling out the music industry and her place in it on "Stranger Things Have Happened," on which she asks, "Have I overstayed my welcome on the FM radio? / Did I capture some affection?" and which has the album's best flickering of humour on it, when she sings "You know I love the subtle silence / I even love the rodeo / And I'll do the lifetime sentence / Sixteen and 20 more to go." She does the same on "No More Quiet" (on which she's joined by horns and backup vocals by Shakura S'Aida). The industry is hard on people, but still especially hard on women.
Curran is joined by an excellent band on most of the record: Joshua Van Tassel on drums, Dean Drouillard on guitar and Devon Henderson on bass, as well as strings and brass arranged by Erin Costelo. They add colour and weight to songs like "Gravity," slow-burner "Try" and the album's earworm of a title track, and carry Curran into poppy folk-rock terrain, but I often find Curran equally powerful on her quieter songs, like "Come Back for Me" and "Act of Human Kindness," which have a subtler kind of weight.
By this point in her career, Curran has recurring themes and preoccupations, and she returns to them: service, mercy, getting out from the undertow. By the end of the record we've landed in a tentatively open place, with calm and atmospheric "Every Woman Every Man" and "You Have Got Each Other" coming across a bit like prayers. (Six Shooter)