The fourth album from Canadian alt-country first lady Kathleen Edwards finds her working with a broader musical itinerary. Edwards has always been critically well regarded, but it hasn’t necessarily translated into record sales. That should change with Voyageur. The apparent vision behind this album is to develop and refine her core sound while keeping things tight and to the point. It’s a progression that largely works.
Having Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon along as co-producer (and love interest) might do the trick in itself. But that would do a disservice to Edwards, who has consistently moved up the scale. Her 2008 release, Asking For Flowers, set a high-water mark, and Voyageur dodges comparisons by presenting the artist’s consistently literate songs in a new light. There are still guitar-led tracks, but Vernon has introduced real variety in his subtly layered approach to production and fresh instrumentation. Vocally, Edwards’ trademark drawl is softer and mellower.
Voyageur traverses Edwards’ love of her homeland and its place in her personal relationships. The journey begins with brisk economy on the Springsteen-echoed “Empty Threat”. In this case it’s “moving to America”, so it seems Canada still wins. Along the way, the scenery gets more diverse: We travel from the rich, earthy balladry of “A Soft Place To Land” and the bright and breezy keyboard charged “Change The Sheets” to the slow guitar rock of “Mint” and a power-poppy “Sidecar”. It’s an exhilarating ride that also takes in punch lines, empty rooms, champagne, and the road to hell.
On closing song “For The Record”, Edwards exorcizes past ghosts. “Hang me up on your cross,” she offers up, “for the record I only wanted to sing songs.” As if to demonstrate the point, this is the most expansive song on the album, though never losing a sense of restraint over its seven-minute duration. In all, this is an album that we’ll still be listening to come next December.
Essential Tracks: “Empty Threat”, “A Soft Place To Land”, “Change The Sheets”, and “For The Record”