Rose Cousins is not from around here, but she might as well be. When she’s not on the road, the Canadian singer-songwriter lives in Halifax. But her respect for Boston’s folk community, dating back to the mid-1990s when she was listening to artists like Melissa Ferrick and Kris Delmhorst, is palpable and poignant on her new album.
“We Have Made a Spark,’’ which will be released on Tuesday, is a record less about its maker and more about the connections and community she has fostered. It’s about family.
Cousins made the album, her third, at Q Division Studios in Somerville with a tight circle of roots luminaries who have quietly made the local music scene so vibrant for so many years. Folks like singer-songwriters Rose Polenzani, Mark Erelli, and Laura Cortese; drummer/booking agent Billy Beard; multi-instrumentalists Dinty Child and Charlie Rose; guitarists Austin Nevins and Duke Levine; and so on.
Even the title conveys a sense of communal accomplishment. To drive home that point, Cousins also directed and produced a short film about the album’s making, “If I Should Fall Behind,’’ named after the Bruce Springsteen song that’s featured on the record as a duet with Erelli. The 20-minute documentary (which you can view for free at www.rosecousins.com/film) will also be screened at the beginning of Cousins’s upcoming show at Club Passim on March 2.
Cousins first came to Boston on a business trip in 2002. She admits she told a little white lie in order to make a pilgrimage to the fabled folk-music mecca she had heard so much about.
“I convinced my [employer] that it was cheaper for me to fly out a day later,’’ Cousins says. “I don’t think that was true, but I knew Club Passim had a two-song open mike on Mondays.’’
Nine months after performing that night, the venue’s managing director, Matt Smith, invited her back to play at one of its marathon Campfire showcases. At that performance Cousins befriended Polenzani, who would often put Cousins up when she was in town and introduced her to other musicians.
“That was the beginning of being welcomed into that family, and I kept in touch with everyone I met,’’ Cousins says. “I still feel like I’m getting away with something by being a part of this group I’ve admired for such a long time.’’
Those friendships are documented in “If I Should Fall Behind.’’ A lot of hugs are exchanged on camera, matched only by the number of compliments about Cousins’s talent. Sitting next to Delmhorst, Jennifer Kimball is full of praise. “The songs are incredible - more devastatingly beautiful songs by Rose Cousins. Yes, please.’’ Delmhorst softly replies, “She hurts us.’’
They’re not the only ones, either. “We Have Made a Spark’’ is an intimate, after-hours Americana record haunted by lonesome pedal steel and celestial harmonies. There’s a particular emphasis on wringing as much emotion as possible from the songwriting. The lyrics to “One Way’’ - “I break where you bend/ I take what you send/ We both pretend/ But I start where you end’’ - are already heartbreaking when Cousins sings them over stark piano. When a string quintet builds to a majestic swell, it’s almost too painful to bear.
Producer Zachariah Hickman, who’s also a musician, arranger, and all-around man about town you’d probably recognize from his curlicue mustache, says he, like so many of his peers, was eager to be part of the record.
“I think there’s something about Rose that really makes people want to do favors for her. She’s so open and honest with people that it makes you enjoy spending time with her,’’ Hickman says. “And other singers who hear Rose sing always tend to remember that first time. She evokes a real visceral reaction from everyone who hears her.’’
You get that impression from watching the movie about the album. It’s such a loving portrait of the artistic process, you start to wonder how any constructive criticism was doled out.
“When we were recording this album, Rose ended up having to be her own critic because everyone in the room would say, ‘That’s great.’ And she’d say, ‘I know I can do that better,’ ’’ says Hickman.
Asked what the album would have sounded like if she had made it alone, Cousins can’t even fathom the alternative.
“I don’t know - I don’t even want to think about that,’’ she says. “When I hear this record, I feel and hear everybody who’s on it. There’s so much heart. I know that these people love me, and I love them. It makes a difference.’’James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.