Kathleen Edwards has not sparked too much recognition since her debut album “Failure” in 2003. The Canadian country-alternative singer-songwriter has since completed three other albums including her most recent, “Voyageur,” released Jan. 17. The title of this album is certainly more optimistic than the first. The alternative genre also seems to take the lead now over Edwards’ earlier, country-dominant tunes. In joining these genres, Edwards seeks a harmony between the ballad-like narratives of country and the rhythmic beats of alternative. However, the album does not make the leap into catchy hits and award-worthy singles.
Throughout the album, there are themes of lost love, misunderstood solitude and occasional hope. These seem at first overwhelming when listed, but the accompanying melodies compensated the dreary subjects. It offers a calming experience and overall seems to capture the the complexities of sorrow and love. For most of the album, Edwards’ voice is clear and pleasant. It is also refreshing in that there are a few upbeat tracks such as “Mint” and “Empty Threat” to atone for lengthy tendencies.
A first run-through of the 10 songs establishes two dividing factors in Edwards’ composition. Nearly every song has a long musical introduction with a piano, guitar, and/or violin. A few pick up speed and musically are quite charming. Steady beats and smooth melodies breath life into the tracks. This may be impart due to the fact that Edwards had several guest musicians to accompany her including Norah Jones and Justin Vernon, the singer-songwriter behind Bon Iver. However, the songs sometimes fall short with the combination of vocals. In “Chameleon/Comedian,” the repetition makes Edwards’s voice slightly whiny. Moreover, the closing to each track tends to be drawn out. The final song is seven minutes long and completely saturates the piece with repetition, slow beats and unnecessary interludes.
However, “Voyageur” is not without some merit. Edwards does offer intriguing imagery in her semisweet narratives. Verses like, “I’ve been wondering about what I’m going to do in a house full of empty rooms,” “blood is thick but it still runs,” and “I’m looking for a soft place to rest,” reestablish the melancholic tone of the album while still keeping a hopeful melody in the accompaniment. Still, paired with these poetic lyrics, there is also an awry of cliché moments if not redundant lines. Overkill choruses and a lack of bold verses make these tracks inclined toward coffee-shop, background music rather than the initial entertainment. Phrases such as, “see me smile. It’s not for a funny joke… Its for every time I don’t need a punch line,” makes it difficult to take certain tracks seriously. In fact, Edwards often narrates scenes without sensitivity to enticing details, thus failing to make the stories memorable.
In closing, “Voyageur” was perhaps not enough of a jump from Edwards’ earlier albums. There are certainly charming moments especially in tracks “Change The Sheets” and “Sidecar” that involve more upbeat rhythmic harmonies. Flowery and blatant narratives offer it the solemn and cheery essence of a lone voyageur. However, with the additions of inconsistent lyrics and irritating introductions and endings, the album as a whole remains sweet but not impressive.