Voyageur acts as Kathleen Edwards‘ “divorce album”. Following the theme of breaking up and moving on, she captures the emotions with bitter ease. This record is a vast change from her last one, 2008’s Asking For Flowers, which contained her stabs at some political and social themes that are completely void on Voyageur. What also isn’t present is the sassiness that she offered on each of her previous three records, most notably what made up Westby from Failer (2003). While Kathleen seems musically subdued, she is more personal and open on this record than she’s ever been before.
The first single Change The Sheets is Kathleen in familiar territory but rather than relying on the usual punchiness of songs like The Cheapest Key and Back To Me, it is Kathleen meets The Fall-era Norah Jones. A very fresh sound for her. And speaking of Norah Jones, the smooth jazz turned adult-alternative-rock singer/songwriter makes a guest appearance on the album’s notable closing track For The Record where Kathleen simply exclaims “for the record I only wanted to sing songs.”
Sidecar, the most upbeat track on the album, also serves as a discrepancy on a record of breakup songs except for the undertones of it perhaps being her denial song. A final grasp of hope and the desire to stay together by wishing “you and I will be sidecars/there to chase down the hard stuff.” But the second verse she is calling out “wait up wait up/you let me show you all of the monsters I was holding on to.” The following song, Pink Champagne, she is once again accepting as she reveals “I don’t want to feel this way”. Should the right strings be pulled, Sidecar might be her first major radio hit since Back To Me made waves in 2005. If she so desired. The potential is there in the connections as the album is co-produced by Justin Vernon, the frontman for current new Grammy favourite Bon Iver.
For those familiar with Kathleen before, this album serves as a sober reminder that while she can write killer songs with killer melodies, she is still a songwriter and has that duty to express her own experiences as they arise. Voyageur isn’t as drastic a step away from her discography as The Baroness was from Sarah Slean‘s, for example, but like that album, this one lays out the hurt and disappointment from the relationship in plain view without relying on lyrical tricks and musical abilities that can be distracting when expressing a message is the main priority. The simplistic route is the most effective.
Consistency is key on Voyageur which helps to make it an early contender for the year’s best and her most even record since Failer, if not ever, but there’s also the desire that Kathleen hasn’t fully given up on her clever cheekiness and backroads balladry that made her one of Canada’s most dependable musicians.
1. Empty Threat
3. A Soft Place To Land
4. Change The Sheets
5. House Full Of Empty Rooms
8. Pink Champagne
9. Going To Hell
10. For The Record