Classy Americana from Canadian chanteuse produced by Bon Iver.
Wyndham Wallace 2012-01-09
Despite being feted in her Canadian homeland since her debut album in 2003 – she was shortlisted in 2008 for the Polaris, their equivalent of the Mercury Prize – Europe is only now waking up to the charms of Kathleen Edwards with the release of her fourth album. That Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, is Voyageur’s co-producer has much to do with that, but to confine its appeal to his involvement is to risk undervaluing a genuinely touching, easily accessible collection of songs.
Vernon is Edwards’ current partner as well as musical collaborator, and it’s easy to infer that he is also the subject of a number of these songs – lines like "Out of the cameras and the lights / You’re a chameleon" lend themselves to conjecture – but, either way, Voyageur is full of ruminations on love and loss. Lyrically it’s never quite as poetically penetrative as one might hope, but it is spotted with beautiful details – "If I fall behind could you leave me a sign / Breadcrumbs in the shape of an arrow" – and an alluring, articulate transparency, especially on Pink Champagne, a sad, honest recollection of her wedding day. (The marriage failed.)
It’s the performances and songwriting, however, which invite most acclaim. Between them, Edwards and Vernon have cast her work in a warm, autumnal light, calling upon a small crew of tried and trusted musicians, including the perennially underrated Jim Bryson, to whom she credits the success of the FM radio-friendly Sidecar, and Norah Jones, who lends her voice to the closing seven-minute lament, For the Record. Leaning on the sounds of modern day Americana, but giving them a contemporary gloss – much as Vernon did for his own most recent album – Edwards is as capable of cantering through the upbeat sweetness of Empty Threat as slowing things down for the mournful, earnest A Soft Place To Land, to which Vernon adds graceful harmonies. The simple pop pleasures of recent single Change the Sheets veer eerily close to early work by The Cranberries, it can’t be denied, but on Mint she offers a feminine take on the mature AOR of Springsteen and Petty.
Though she bears comparison to the likes of Gillian Welch, Shelby Lynne and Aimee Mann, Edwards has an appeal of her own. That it took the intervention of a star producer to bring her to our attention says as much about how we discover music as it does about her own need to find the right collaborator to bring out her best.