Singer Edwards Takes Listeners Places

KATHLEEN_EDWARDS

October 4, 2012

Voyageur
By Kathleen Edwards
Maple Music 2011
Produced by Justin Vernon and Kathleen Edwards

Reviewed by Andrea June

Kathleen Edwards’ fifth CD, Voyageur, makes me feel like I’m flying. And that’s probably one of the reasons it was short-listed for the Polaris Prize.

With an unadorned voice sometimes reminiscent of a boy soprano, Edwards’s lyrical melodies glimmer over a wash of acoustic and electric mid-ranges, and deep, pulsing rock drum beats and bass. Her impressive collection of sounds, including guitars, vibraphone, synth, organ, violin, rhodes (yum!), and choir, among others, can seem oversaturated at times, but the powerful beats provide a foundation that keeps the lyrical melodies and atmospheric arrangements driving forward.

What I really like about this album is the nonstop, sustained sounds of the choir-like vocalizations, synth, organ and other instruments of that syrupy potential. These sounds shimmer above the song like ethereal connective tissue, giving me a sense of lift and expansion. Edwards’s lead vocals are sometimes joined in octaves by other voices or instruments, enhancing this sense of space. It’s like the sonic equivalent of an aerial view. I can’t help but think of sprawling wild landscapes and big skies – of voyaging.

As I listened, I wished I could understand more of the lyrics. Edwards has a choir-like vocal technique, which makes little of consonants or dipthongs, instead favouring the wide-open vowels. This sound contrasts well with the flurry of instruments around the singer, but sometimes also makes lyrics difficult to discern. But the mixing is primarily to blame for this. Edwards’s lead vocals are often faded to the level of back-up vocals. There are some songs where the mix puts the leads up front, such as “Chameleon/Comedian,” and the slower songs like “House Full of Empty Rooms,” and “Pink Champagne.” The effect of louder lead vocals creates an intimacy between performer and listener. Perhaps it is the opposite effect that the uber-blended sound was meant to achieve? Still, I think an effect is not worth completely obscuring the words.

From what I can understand of the lyrics, most songs centre on romantic relationships and associated feelings (longing, regret, fulfillment). There are some lines which stand out as particularly marvellous. For example, in “A Soft Place to Land”:

I’m looking for
a soft place to land
The forest floor
The palms of your hands

What I love about this line is the sense of space created by paralleling the forest floor (macro) and palms of hands (micro) as equally possible places to land. This collapsing and expanding of space, through words and music, is most fascinating about Voyageur. I’m reminded of Rae Spoon, a musician who’s journeyed from classic folk/country toward a more nuanced, electronic sound. Like Spoon, Edwards has also ventured from her previous folk-rock territory. I hope on her next album we’ll hear music that is comfortable in its new body, with a fully realized synthesis of thoughtful – audible – lyrics.
Andrea June is a Victoria-based singer/songwriter; find more of her work at www.autojanszandreajune.com

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