Music Review

Growing up is a voyage

Kathleen Edwards' new album, Voyageur is a mature, comforting collection of songs.


Voyageur is Edwards' fourth studio album

For a decade now, Ottawa native Kathleen Edwards has been refining her music to create a distinct, folksy sound that is casually emotional and comforting.  With her airy voice, thoughtful lyrics and relaxed guitar riffs, her most recent album, Voyageur, released Jan. 17, is more of the same reliable sound.  Except on this album, sunk into layers of piano lines, guitar riffs and reflexive lyrics, there is a maturity and a wisdom that indicates Edwards has finally perfected her craft.  

The album as narrative

The album is 11 tracks strung together to tell a story of growing up, going through major heartbreak and moving on.  Edwards wrote the album while working through her divorce to Colin Cripps - who was also her guitarist and long-time collaborator.  If there ever was an archetype for breakup songs, A Soft Place to Land and House Full of Empty Rooms would be it with their delicate lyrics and clever use of instrumental dynamics.  

American singer/songwriter Justin Vernon, the genius behind the gut-wrenching sounds of Bon Iver, co-produced the album and is Edwards' new romantic partner. You can hear his influence ring through the entire album, but it doesn't overpower the sound that Edwards has been developing since her debut album, Failer, in 2002. The album's first single, Change the Sheets, has the same driving rhythm that you hear in many Bon Iver songs.  But with her voice and rootsy guitar licks, the song is still authentic to Edwards' style. 

Vernon has a reputation for experimenting with various sounds, as heard in his side project Volcano Choir. In the guilt-ridden song Going to Hell  you get a sense of that playful use of sound when you hear a bicycle bell quietly chirping behind a layers of guitars, strings and a Hammond organ.   

To celebrate the album's release, Edwards performed a selection of songs in CBC radio's studio 211 in Toronto.  Here, she's performing Change the Sheets - with Vancouver indie rocker Hannah Georgas on backup vocals. 

A Canadian sound with a mainstream audience

Edwards has often struggled with feeling as if her music gets pigeonholed into to one specific genre of alt-country.  She believes that her music is accessible to people with a variety of musical tastes and hopes to increase her fanbase.  

Edwards earned two Juno nominations in 2006 for Songwriter of the Year and Adult Alternative Album of the Year for Back to Me, but didn't win in either category.  In an interview on Monday on Jian Ghomeshi's CBC radio show Q, she talked about how this album feels like her last chance for musical success. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Edwards talked about the fears a musician faces after they have been hanging around the industry for a while.  She said, "before this album I was worried I would become some lost alt-country songwriter from the early 2000s who now lives in Pickering, Ont., never to be heard from again."  

But with the delicately crafted sounds, a European tour with Vernon and moving to the U.S., Edwards is far from getting lost.

In fact, the eclectic mix of instruments heard in each song and lyrics that pull on your heartstrings culminates into an album that is vividly Canadian.  This is the album that will push her in to a more mainstream audience, without losing the fans that have been around long enough to hear her musical growth.


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