Artist: Kathleen Edwards
Label: Rounder Records
Release Date: 24th January 2012
Written by Caitlin White
Kathleen Edwards makes the type of music that makes you believe in your own dreams again. I don’t say that about an album lightly. On Voyageur, her fourth release, she seems to have hit her stride. I recently moved to New York, and the feeling of freshness & promise in a gutsy thousand-mile move like she describes on album opener Empty Threat is well known to me. “I’m movin to America/ Its an empty threat” turns into “It’s not an empty threat” on the last chorus of the song, revealing that even empty threats have the potential to turn true with enough bravery. Especially after the heartbreak, loneliness and sadness the rest of the record details, starting it with this fresh and hopeful track keeps it from straying too far into despair.
This album does tackle the toughest things a heart must undergo, from the disintegration of a relationship in House Full Of Empty Room, to that relationship that spelled doom from the beginning in Going To Hell. This tune, especially, is haunting as she reveals “See I’m going to hell/ In a basket I made/ Woven from the letters/ And it spells your name.” Vernon joins her in harmony on this track, as well as several others, adding his gorgeous voice to hers but never overpowering her as lead vocalist or stealing the show. If any artists knows how to bring out the best in others, it seems to be the Bon Iver frontman, who is gaining a reputation for nurturing and helping other artists with their music.
Listening to this record can turn almost any landscape magical and the countryside of sound she creates exhibits the telling twists of sound that production by Justin Vernon entail. Those almost animalistic sounding lonely horn sounds woven into the background, brief vocal noise bursts at just the right moment to assault your attention and bring bits of the song into sharp focus.
Her lyrics aren’t intricate, they’re simple and to the point but they are also practically diary entries. We get the sense that Edwards has taken her most private relationships and struggles and bared them for the sake of this record, a feat that requires bravery but nearly always results in a compelling piece of art. For instance, on Chameleon/Comedian she writes about our tendency to turn the most important things in life into jokes as a way of hiding our true feelings, even admitting that her own dalliances in this habit, “I’m a chameleon/ I just hide behind the songs I write.” The sound breakdown that occurs at the end of this track, featuring howling from Vernon may be the most heartbreaking part of the record.
As the album is entitled Voyageur, this theme of travel and change pops up again and again in her lyrics and even musically. Songs like Change The Sheets and Sidecar travel so far from where they began over their length that they end up discussing so much more than the mundane objects they appear to be based on.
I highly recommend giving this record a listen, if you’re going through a heartbreak yourself or not, Edwards includes enough variety to appeal to almost any mood. Superbly produced by Vernon and often joining Edwards vocally, the record has that extra element of his genius that pops up like an unexpected gift.
* * *