Edwards never makes a weak album
In the advance hype leading up to Voyageur, much has been made of Kathleen Edwards' creative and romantic partnership with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, the indie sensation whose 2010 album topped many year-end lists and garnered several Grammy nominations. On the surface, it's a strange combination: Edwards has rarely strayed from the Canadiana roots rock template of her peers Sarah Harmer, Jim Bryson and Blue Rodeo; Vernon makes sensitive, mellow pseudo-folk music that sounds like it's sung by space aliens and a '70s L.A. studio band. What would Vernon do with Edwards' music? Hook her up to a helium tank? Demand she strip away any literal language in her lyrics? Impose a five-piece horn section on every song?
Vernon is all about the opaque; Edwards is never anything but blunt and direct. Using their lyrics, let's imagine a typical conversation between them. Edwards: "I know your heart is a sacred thing. You're a comedian hiding behind your funny face." Vernon: "In a mother, out a moth, furling forests for the soft, gotta know been lead aloft." Edwards: "Out of the shadows, out of the cameras and the lights, you're a chameleon and you hide behind your darker side." Vernon: "I'm ridding all your stories. What I know is, what it is, is pouring - wire it up!"
Thankfully, Vernon doesn't impose himself on Edwards' music; the production is crisp and clean, and there's little here to distinguish it from any other Edwards album, other than her continuing maturity as a writer - although 2008's Asking For Flowers was the real sea change, where she expanded her writing voice, constructing strong narratives that were clearly not autobiographical, setting short stories to songs. Here she's back to writing what could easily be seen as personal stories; in the last year she divorced previous collaborator Colin Cripps before taking up with Vernon, and much of the album is about beginnings and endings of relationships. She and Vernon have very little in common, musically, although her House Full of Empty Rooms shares chords and sounds somewhat like Bon Iver's Beth/Rest, only without a Mike and the Mechanics backdrop and with about 1/20th the amount of reverb.
And yet if enough potential fans who would never give Kathleen Edwards the time of day before are suddenly interested because of the Bon Iver connection, more power to her. Edwards has yet to make a weak record, and Voyageur finds her more than ready for her close-up.
Download: Change the Sheets, Empty Threat, House Full of Empty Rooms