Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards

Additional reviews and articles on music, books and film on my Arts page.
Another strong and melodious offering from this singer-songwriter who’s mostly flown under the radar since her well-received 2003 debut, Failer. This album should bring her a wider audience, initially (and a little unfairly) because of the presence of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon as co-producer and supporting musician, but over the long run due to Voyageur’s strong songwriting and more complex, dreamy sound (a change from the classic Canadian folk-rock of her first three albums).

The album tracks the break-up of one relationship and the start of another (not surprising for someone who was divorced recently and is now dating Vernon). This allows for the lovely juxtaposition of regretful songs like “Chameleon/Comedian” (“You’re a chameleon and I hide behind the songs that I write”) with something completely joyous like “Sidecar,” as good as anything I’ve heard in capturing the excitement of falling in love, when you want to share every little thing with your new partner and there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to fit it all in.

Musically, Voyageur is wider ranging and fuller with keyboards, wordless background choruses and subtle harmonies adding color to the mix of rock, country, light blues and ballads. “Change the Sheets” captures the spirit here. An album highlight, it’s a bridge between Edwards’ earlier work and the sound on this album. The melody, especially the chorus, is classic Edwards, but the song derives its mood from minor key eighth notes on a keyboard and when the band joins in, it’s a full-throated rocker with no hint of country. “Mint” and “Sidecar” are similarly straightforward rock songs. These are balanced by the piano ballad of “A Soft Place to Land” and the slow acoustic build of “House Full of Empty Rooms.” In between, you’ve got the country rock of “Empty Threat” (another highlight – and I think she’s singing “Moving to Mecca” not “Moving to America” for those of you who listen to lyrics) and the bluesy “For the Record.”

It’s a testament to Vernon’s light touch as a producer (and his overall artistic integrity) that I didn’t realize he was involved until I read about it. His influence is most obvious in the reverb in the vocals (helped by the fact that Edwards sings more clearly and with less twang), which lends additional expressiveness that’s perfect for the music. His influence also appears in the dreamy Fender steel sustains and echo on “Pink Champagne” and the swell of keyboards and percussion in “Going to Hell” (is that a bicycle bell I hear?). But in general this very much is Edwards’ album – so he’s acted exactly as a good producer should and let the artist’s voice be heard.

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