There are songwriters who get the attention they deserve, and then there are people like Kathleen Edwards, the perennially overlooked siren responsible for some of the best Americana songs of the 21st century.
On “Voyageur,” Miss Edwards‘ first album in four years, she continues gliding across folk, country and pop/rock like some sort of ethereal ghost, haunting each genre with equal force. Her brand of multidimensional Americana isn’t rough and ragged like those of her male counterparts, but polished and smooth, with rounded edges instead of sharp corners. When Miss Edwards sings, you lean forward and listen, worried that you’ll miss the nuances.
Miss Edwards‘ voice isn’t classically pretty. There is a rural ruggedness to her low notes and a gauzy breathiness to the high parts. Even so, it’s a killer instrument, evocative of the outdoorsy images and heartbroken lyrics that fill her songs.
Also filling the nooks and crannies of “Voyageur” is Justin Vernon, known to most indie-folk fans as Bon Iver. He is Miss Edwards‘ touring partner and rumored boyfriend, but he also is her producer, responsible for saturating her songs with the same sort of textured, autumnal gloss that fills his own records. There is a sense of fall, of mild days followed by cold evenings, of leaves turning bright colors before drifting to the ground. It’s a mood that suits Miss Edwards‘ songs perfectly.
She sings some of those songs directly to Mr. Vernon. “Out of the cameras and lights, you’re a chameleon,” she croons during “Chameleon/Celebrity,” a song about building a relationship in the public eye. She focuses more of her time on past loves, though, particularly her five-year marriage to Canadian guitarist Colin Cripps.
“Pink Champagne” examines their failed union, using the couple’s wedding day as the focal point. “Looking back, it was a bad idea,” she acknowledges in her plain-spoken tone. Miss Edwards has always gotten a lot of mileage out of melancholia, and there is plenty of heart-wrenching stuff here.
“Voyageur” isn’t a breakup album, though. Maybe it’s the presence of Mr. Vernon, who brings occasional moments of sunshine to the album’s Americana haze and gives Miss Edwards something positive to sing about. Or maybe it’s the fact that Miss Edwards has never been a one-trick pony. She looks beyond the stock images used by sad-sack alt.country songwriters - the empty whiskey bottles, the vacant beds, the late-night bars - and writes about something more subtle.
“My love is a stockpile of broken wills,” she sings during “Change the Sheets,” “like Santa Fe, margaritas and sleeping pills.” Few people would be able to deliver that kind of line without it sounding clunky or bookish. Miss Edwards pulls it off.
She gets a little help from her friends, of course. Norah Jones stops by for a cameo appearance, as do John Roderick, Megafaun’s Phil Cook and other indie-rock heavyweights. Bon Iver’s influence is everywhere, too.
This is the Kathleen Edwards’ show, though, and every minute is riveting.
A case of nerves
Move over, Duffy. There’s a new neo-soul singer in town.
Her debut album won’t be released until the end of the month, but Lana Del Rey scored a choice spot on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, performing two songs as the show’s musical guest. Even for a program that prides itself on showcasing new talent, this was relatively unprecedented, given Miss Del Rey’s small output - she has released only three songs - and under-the-radar status.
She was anxious, of course. The nerves seemed to get the best of her and dragged down both performances.
She will get second shot when “Born to Die” hits stores Jan. 31. In the meantime, Miss Del Rey may serve as a cautionary tale, a warning to the music industry that fresh faces need time to mature.
High-tech star wares
The International Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up Friday evening, sending its 153,000 technology-obsessed attendees back to their day jobs. This year’s show wasn’t just about computers, though.
Ludacris and 50 Cent made appearances to hawk their new lines of headphones. Panasonic unveiled technology that could make it cheaper for the music industry to embrace the use of 3-D music videos.
Justin Timberlake, now the creative director of MySpace, even made an appearance to talk about MySpace TV, which will allow users to chat about music videos in real time from their mobile phones.