Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Kathleen Edwards was seen on the Grammy Awards broadcast a couple weeks ago. She was smiling through her boyfriend's acceptance speech. Those running the camera and cutting to that shot of the beaming and proud Canadian as she heard Eau Claire, Wisconsin mentioned on-stage, for the first time ever in a Grammy Awards ceremony, had no idea who she was, just a curly-haired woman from the Badger State they likely assumed. The thing is, after listening to Edwards' new album, "Voyageur," once and then not even being able to force yourself to stop listening, you have a feeling that if there's any goodness in the world, she could be on that stage next February, a bit flustered, cheeks getting redder as she stands and running through an off-the-cuff monologue, clutching in her hands a statue.
"Voyageur" is that good and Edwards' songwriting has never been better, crafting her a collection of songs that focus on folks who are smack in the middle between what they want and what they have. Sure, they are treated to the occasional piece of gratification, but there's a lot more floundering and a lot more wondering than simple, contented living. They are people who have their thoughts pinned elsewhere sometimes, unable to be in the present, adrift in their own backroads. They are people who are not just thinking about how hard everything's gotten, but they're seeing it. They're living in a personal world that's run afoul, but hasn't started to fully decompose yet. They're grappling with situations that have all become the kind of lukewarm that make's you recoil, but in an understated way, like you would upon a spoonful of soup that you weren't aware had been left out in room temperatures for a few hours. You would just casually swallow the cold gulp and place the spoon down beside the bowl, reaching for the napkin to wipe your mouth and push yourself away from the table.
Edwards has become a true craftsman when it comes to the kinds of sentiments that fill you up with horrible sadness and sunken humanity. She writes stories that make you feel so alive because they're reminding you - very vividly and with a touching passion - that a lot of times, good things come to an end and there's no stronger feeling than the urge to not be the cause of anyone else's hurt and heartache. Everyone on "Voyageur" sounds at least partially tortured by this idea.
There are all kinds - or maybe just one - of relationships that are dissolving in that slow and agonizing way that was actually way too rapidly as they were over before they started, or that's what the heart's saying. Edwards sings on "House of Empty Rooms," "I'm far from perfect/I'm far from anything/But I swear that when we started I used to make you happy/But I don't you/Not the way that I thought I did/Maybe you don't know me and you don't want to be the first to say it/I've been wondering what we're gonna do/Yeah, I've been wondering what we're gonna do with a house full of empty rooms." It sounds so doomed and final. It sounds like it all was a total waste, as if nothing could be salvaged. Sometimes the only thing you have left is the door to walk out of.