2009/02/16 Rio Theatre; Vancouver, BC
Kathleen Edwards has talent, charisma, and fight
The Rio Theatre has amazing acoustics. That was clear with the first long, true, lonely howl from Dustin Bentall's harmonica, at the top of an outstanding opening set on Friday night.
Judging by the songs he previewed from a forthcoming album, especially a deft defence of art over workaday drudgery called "Draft Dodger" - which also featured a smoking fiddle breakdown from kewpie-doll-sized Kendel Carson - North Van's own cosmic cowboy has new material strong enough to match his performance chops.
The judges of the Independent Music Awards apparently agree. Last week, Bentall received the best-country-song nod for a cowrite with Ridley Bent called "Nine Inch Nails". He decisively won over a lively and receptive audience with that number, which describes a breakup in terms of who got what in the record-collection department, although a quasi-slam on Hüsker Dü drew a murmur of confusion. After all, most of this group probably ended up in roots territory after a long apprenticeship in '80s punk - which might explain their passion for the tough and flinty headliner, Kathleen Edwards.
The hugely popular alt-country queen is occasionally noted for a combative nature and a dirty mouth, but she also pours an enormous amount of vulnerability into her songwriting.
More revealing numbers like "Asking for Flowers", "Sure as Shit", and the hymn to dislocation "Copied Keys" speak for themselves, even more transparently when stripped down - as on Friday - to just Edwards and guitarist Colin Cripps. But Edwards gamely lifted the veil by turning the joke on herself every time she snarked at her musical partner, who also happens to be her husband.
The Steve and Eydie dynamic was one thing, and Cripps's tasty accompaniment on a cream Telecaster and electric mandolin was another, but it was Edwards's catalogue of classically tooled adult rockers and seasoned stage presence that made the lasting impression.
When she raised her guitar with a big shit-eating grin and made us wait for the brilliant "Here comes my softer side, and there it goes" payoff in 'The Cheapest Key" - a song that drew devil horns and a small eruption of hysteria from two ladies in the audience - Edwards signalled that she's at the top of her game, and she knows it.
She's also ready to curse out Merle Haggard for some of the more Neanderthal sentiments in his "Are the Good Times Really Over".
"Fuck you, Merle Haggard," she snarled, after delivering his line about "a girl who could still cook, and would". There's no record of the chin-bearded legend's opinion on Edwards, but he'd have to respect a "girl" with that much talent, charisma, and fight.
The Georgia Straight