Over atmospheric guitars and a swirl of vocal harmony, Canuck Kathleen Edwards opens her fourth full-length with a barren promise, shouted to the rafters: “I’m movin’ to America.” Eight songs later, she sings, “I’m going to hell / In a basket I made,” trembling quietly over meditative acoustics. Maybe she’s implying hell and America are in the same zip-code (Those pesky Canadians!), but the aptly-named Voyageur nonetheless finds Edwards in a state of transit—chronicling the mental, emotional and literal geographies that separate her narrators from their desires.
But Voyageur similarly finds Edwards traveling great expanses as a musician. Her freshly colored arrangements simply explode with sonic possibilities, expanding upon her previously straightforward Americana palette with layers of painstakingly crafted overdub dreaminess, dipping lavishly into jazz and lightly psychedelic textures. At this point, it’s no secret that Voyageur features musical and production assistance from Edwards’ Grammy-nominated poster-boyfriend, Justin Vernon (Quite frankly, his fingerprints are all over this thing.) At its best, this 10-track set presents Edwards as the more accessible, less intentionally obscure, female-fronted Bon Iver.
It’s a hell of a look: Lead single “Change the Sheets” is a cathartic, transcendent singalong—with its seamless blend of Americana and arena-ready indie-rock, Edwards (with her plain-yet-affecting voice) borders on Neko Case territory, particularly when the chorus erupts into a glorious noise, grasping toward a tear-streaked epiphany: “Change this feeling under my feet / Change the sheets, and then change me.”
Strangely, for all its high-profile guest stars (Vernon, Norah Jones, S. Carey, Phil Cook of Megafaun, among others), Voyageur never feels like a patchwork affair—you can feel those artists’ presence in the music, but influence is implied more than overtly drilled through: While Jones lends smoky harmonies to spellbinding closer “For the Record,” it’s almost difficult to hear her vocals, though the jazzy arrangement (with its swirling Hammond B3 organ and tremolo guitars) would have felt at home on Feels Like Home.
It’s ultimately awkward (and disappointing) when Edwards succumbs to Lilith Fair-esque blues-rock—the stillborn “Mint” sounds like Sheryl Crow covering “What if God Was One of Us” (And the lyric “God knows I want to / God knows I need to / God doesn’t know you like I do” isn’t doing her any favors). But if it’s true that “All (she’s) lookin’ for is a place to land,” with Voyageur, she’s certainly found it.