Album Review: Kathleen Edwards’ “Voyageur”

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After a three-year hiatus from recording, Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards is releasing her fourth full-length project, Voyageur, on Jan. 16. 

Edwards' previous albums have garnered positive critical reviews and several Juno award nominations (Canada's Grammy equivalent), but have not achieved pop mainstream success.

Her new effort seems more like an opportunity to grow personally and artistically than an attempt to crossover to a more commercial marketplace, but this change in direction may achieve both purposes. 

She has stated in interviews that she was tired of the four-chord acoustic singer-songwriter routine and ready to explore different avenues in crafting songs and making recordings. Although she is obviously influenced by Neil Young and Tom Petty, she has said that she felt boxed in by the Americana, Alt-Country label and was ready to move beyond those constraints.

The most noticeable change in Edwards' sound that one hears on the first listen to Voyageur is exactly that: the sound. In the past, her musical influences like Whiskeytown, Lucinda Williams or Tom Petty have been exemplified not only in the songwriting but also by the production values. She invited Bon Iver's Justin Vernon to co-produce this project and his contribution is evident on every track.

However, although she enlisted help in order to find a new sonic direction, the exceptional material and the strong performances are hers. In the past, particularly on her first two recordings, Failer and Back To Me, her songwriting was less autobiographical and more about telling other people's stories. 

Voyageur is much more introspective and personal. Many of the songs are about moving; changing the landscape both literally and emotionally. Since her 2008 release Asking For Flowers, Edwards has gone through a divorce and is now in a relationship with Vernon.

The trials and travails, as well as the optimism from traveling the road of romance, can be heard in the new songs. Edwards' ability to change direction and to explore new possibilities has produced her best work to date.

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