Kathleen Edwards ‘Voyageur’ – Review

2 Mar

Voyageur’ is the fourth album from Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards, and the first to be released in the UK. The fact that it was produced by Edwards’ boyfriend, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, no doubt helped in securing its release, but whilst having arguably the most influential alternative musician of the past decade in your corner is no small deal (And let’s face it, it’s probably the reason you’ve heard of her, if you have heard of her), it helps that this album is by far her strongest to date.

The similarities between ‘Voyageur’ and Bon Iver’s last album are few and far between; there is nothing flashy, experimental or alternative about this album, It relies on simple melodies, interesting but straightforward alt-country arrangements, and confessional lyrics. You’ve probably noticed that this combination is hardly a re-invention of the wheel, but it’s classic for a reason, and Edwards does a great job of reminding you why these ingredients are timeless. Influences like Joni Mitchell, Whiskytown and The Cranberries have informed her off-centre country rock sound; the more upbeat numbers are catchy and infectious, whilst the slow songs are emotive and delicate. Complimenting this style is her voice, which is Edwards greatest strength. It has a nice, warm tone, and, like the music, is simple and unshowy.

In fact this can be said of everything about ‘Voyageur’, right down to the staggeringly direct lyrics that deal with the breakdown of one relationship and the birth of a new one. They say there are five stages to grief, and on ‘Voyeguer’ Kathleen Edwards goes through all of them. From denial (‘come September I will feel brand new’) to anger (‘I hit that head until it bled, I pressed reset, goddamit!’), to bargaining (‘Call me in the night, I don’t care, I don’t mind, I can’t sleep’), to depression (‘I wanna lie in the cracks of this lonely road, I can fill in the blanks for every time you don’t call’), to acceptance (‘We’re never going to feel the same, change the sheets and then change me’).

The album accurately and devastatingly describes the uncertainty that proceeds a break up, and Edwards has a knack for articulating things that are often left unsaid. On the album’s heartbreaking centrepiece ‘House Full of Empty Rooms’, she says ‘You don’t kiss me in the way I wish you would, maybe I don’t look at you in the way that makes you think you should’ and then goes on to say ‘Maybe you don’t know me and you don’t want to be the first to say.’ Her voice aches and strains to hit the notes in a desperate and heartwrenching attempt to stay composed.

It would have been easy to end the album with ‘Soft Place to Land’ or ‘Change the Sheets’, songs that are respectively morbid and bitter, songs about feeling empty and directionless (most break up albums end on such a pessimistic note), but this is a break up record with a happy ending. On ‘Sidecar’ Edwards talks about having found her soul mate, who has saved her in no small part (‘I was feeling so lost for so long’), whilst on ‘Going to Hell’ she sings about her devotion to this new partner (presumably Justin Vernon) and says ‘anywhere you go, I’ll follow’. On this song her voice takes on a new, joyous tone that makes this a slightly misleading first single. This balance of extreme emotions allows ‘Voyageur’ to be a three dimensional album, and ultimately, a hopeful and optimistic one. Ok, some of the songs are pretty bleak affairs, but there is an overall spirit that the good will out.



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