Back on track
roots darling kathleen edwards finds success in the wake of failer
like the vexed young woman confronting a felony-minded boyfriend's lies in the "six o'clock news" prequel song "in state," or the disillusioned loners and lovers of "somewhere else" and "copied keys," singer-songwriter kathleen edwards has been toughened by the circumstances of the past two years. two years ago, the canadian roots-pop artist burst out of the gate with failer (zoe/rounder), a highly praised debut that she'd initially recorded as a batch of demos. the disc found a powerful fan in david letterman and landed her a year's worth of gigs opening for the likes of the rolling stones and bob dylan as well as headlining her own tour. the plan, according to the rounder brass at the time, was to put the dynamic, outgoing edwards in front of as many people as possible, a strategy that kept the then 24-year-old singer-songwriter on the road for much of 2003. when she finally headed home last year, she was exhausted.
"i sort of got plucked out of my life and started touring and a lot of it was, in some ways, too much too soon," says edwards, who brings her band to the iron horse in northampton this monday and the paradise in boston on tuesday in support of back to me (zoe/rounder), an album that brims with the same trenchant storytelling that got her noticed in the first place. "at the same time, it's not like i had overnight success on a major scale or anything, and i still don't. so you're working your ass off trying to set yourself up for the rest of your life and yet you're not really making any money doing it."
indeed, despite landing her in magazine spreads and on critics' best-of lists, failer has sold a modest 80,000 copies in the us, according to nielsen soundscan, and moved an additional 20,000 units in canada, where edwards received scarce airplay despite being a native daughter. "i'm not in this for the money. but it's daunting to think that the guys in my band go back to day jobs when we're off the road. i was lucky because i started making back to me right away, so i didn't have time to get a waitressing job. i do worry whether this record is going to sell enough copies so that i do actually see some money this time, because i didn't see any money with the last record... well, it was just enough to be slightly comfortable and pay rent. but i also realized that not everyone who puts out a record gets to do all the stuff i did. i think i just needed some time off to remember that, and being away really helped inspire me. i was excited to write again."
save for the problems faced by the hard-luck folks and beautiful losers who try to find and hold on to themselves in edwards's songs (the plucky title track is the disc's only straightforwardly upbeat narrative), there's no sign of fatigue or frustration among back to me's collection of sweetly sung, melancholy freefalls. recorded by edwards with her road-tested band - guitarist colin cripps, bassist kevin mccarragher, and drummer joel anderson - the disc has a sure-handed confidence, clarity of vision, and sense of purpose that failer only hinted at. there's an air of moody grace and rustic elegance. the warm, open-air atmosphere of the mixes frames edwards's ache of a voice, which can move from headstrong ("independent thief") to distressed ("away"). the shifts of tone and temperament seem effortless: the lusty bravado of "back to me" sits alongside "pink emerson radio," a song about an emotionally paralyzed home dweller trying to make up her mind about what to save as her house catches fire. "in state" revisits the doomed couple who tugged and tortured hearts on edwards's breakthrough hit, "six o'clock news," but at an earlier point in time.
"someone asked me have i figured out 'how the story's gonna end before you write the song,' and the truth is that i don't. i just started playing the chorus and then i got into a verse and realized that yeah, this is that story. but i wasn't consciously trying to do something similar. if anything, i have this little voice over my shoulder saying, 'you wrote a song just like "six o'clock news." ' as much as that's true, i think i'm also just writing songs about people going through interesting circumstances because... i like dark characters."