Over time, pressure creates cracks in the foundation and fragments any stability of almost any structure, but when magical conditions are met, that same pressure can create diamonds.
There is a weight resting on the shoulders of Kathleen Edwards, a microscope focused in on every cell of her being. Whether it’s her limitless potential, her break-up or subsequent high profile relationship, everyone has an opinion on a woman that by her own admission, “only wanted to sing songs.”
So when you sit down with Edwards’ latest record, Voyageur, you should realize the ten songs aren’t about the Grammy nominated and Pitchfork approved producer she chose, the end of her marriage or even the new beginnings that dictate the subject matter. For Edwards, this record, her most complete and risky to date, is about her desire to change her expectations and ignore ours.
Voyageur isn’t simple strums of her acoustic supporting the endless stable of heartbreaking characters Kathleen creates. She’s not competing for the Canadian country/roots crown, although she still shows moments of folky brilliance (the ray of light that beams through the melody of “Empty Threat” when she sings of the concrete cracks of a condo town, could be the 2012 equivalent of Joni’s “Big Yellow Taxi”). No, Edwards is letting go, of everything she was expected to be.
Working with not only Justin Vernon, but underappreciated power popper John Roderick and her immensely talented band, Kathleen opens up herself for input and sings proudly of her life. New textures and more muscular hooks are explored (the punch of the lead single and spacy synths, “Change the Sheets”, are undeniable and “Mint” is an effort husky enough to make Peppermint Patty blush), but tender piano ballads are introduced and augmented just as successfully.
“Soft Place to Land” tugs at your heartstrings, but leveraging her producers preferred textures and her band’s talent she adds triumphant, marching band drums, bicycle bells and a confident crescendo to infuse a tale of true love dying with a surprising amount of life. “The album closer, “For the Record” uses electric guitars and blasts of noise to find a surprisingly nice groove, but all songs move in new directions without overshadowing Edwards’ voice.
For those wondering, Edwards pen is still as potent and professional as ever. Nothing is sugar coated or embellished and she doesn’t hide behind characters we already sympathize. Voyageur isn’t another Alanis or Adele like collection of songs from a lover scorned, it’s an honest telling of one woman’s life. Kathleen shares her hurt , but also her own faults in the much more realistic situation of two lovers drifting apart over time. She’s not without blame, and when she sings, “you don’t kiss me, not that way that I wish you would, maybe I don’t look at you in a way that makes you feel you should ” on “House Full of Empty Rooms”, somehow you can feel your heart breaking for both parties.
Why this works so well is Edwards balances the sadness with the exhilaration of new love. There are moments of pure happiness hindsight scattered throughout this record, sung without spite, taunts or regret. Ten songs as open and depressing as the hindsight heavy look back at her wedding day would be too much without the chaser – pardon the pun – of sparkling gems like “Sidecar.”
What’s sad is that so much of this change with be credited to the people involved in making this record, overlooking that Edwards hinted at some of this growth and adventure on Asking For Flowers. Why now? Maybe she was just in a better mindset to fully explore these new sounds and openly collaborate with new people. Who knows, and really who cares? The end result speak for itself. Voyageur isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. These songs again prove that Edwards is one of our nations best songwriters and as she becomes more comfortable fusing new sounds into her rock solid songs, she’s really going to take flight.