Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kathleen Edwards: "Voyageur" (album review)

Kathleen Edwards is a hit or miss proposition for me.  When she's gritty and twangy I think she is a powerful artist.  When the Ottawa singer attempts her more introspective fare, she comes across as listless and contrived.

Making me approach her forthcoming album Voyageur (out Jan. 17th) with even more trepidation is that it is co-produced by her boyfriend Justin Vernon, whom I always find listless and contrived (not to mention pretentious).

Vernon's influence is felt more prominently on those more sombre tracks. The swirling effects creep in on "Chameleon/Comedian", a bland, sterile number.  The orchestrals on "A Soft Place To Land" are out-of-place, while the production on "House Full of Empty Rooms" wastes a strong melody by surrounding it with a cold, lifeless arrangement.

"Pink Champagne" may be the greatest offender of them all.  It's faux gravitas is unconvincing as it tries way too hard to come across as a deep, meaningful song.  As a result it sounds contrived and cynical.

On a few of occasions, the combination creates some welcome fireworks.  The arrangement builds to an intense fervor on the grand "Going To Hell".

The arrangements and effects are most effective though, when they play a subordinate role to Edwards' innate rootsyness (rootsiness?) as on "Change the Sheets", and "Sidecar", rather than acting as a distraction.  Boasting a guitar line full of attitude and a keyboard adding texture, "Mint" strikes the perfect balance.

Despite the many criticisms, Voyageur really isn't any less enjoyable than previous Kathleen Edwards albums, since half the songs on those aren't very enjoyable anyway.  She remains and artist who is hit or miss.

Kathleen Edwards plays The Phoenix in Toronto on February 11th with Hannah Georgas.

Best tracks: "Mint", "Change The Sheets"

Track listing for Voyageur:
  • Empty Threat
  • Chameleon/Comedian
  • A Soft Place To Land
  • Change the Sheets
  • House Full of Empty Rooms
  • Mint
  • Sidecar
  • Pink Champagne
  • Going To Hell
  • For the Record

No comments: