Edwin Arnaudin – Staff Writer
Canadian singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards teams with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on her latest album in hopes of boosting her brand of Americana. Voyageur is Edwards’ fourth studio album, following Failer (2003), Back To Me (2005), and Asking For Flowers (2008).
Rating: 2 Stars
- “Empty Threat” – I’m first struck by the pleasantness of Edwards’ voice. Along with a clean, slightly uptempo acoustic/piano sound, strings and vocal harmonies liven up the background. “I’m moving to America,” she sings on the chorus, alluding to the Canadian’s titular action. However, the overall effect is a slightly overproduced indie sound that may wear thin as the album progresses. It’s almost too busy and operatic to work track after track, so I hope she winds up simplifying a bit.
- “Chameleon/Comedian” – Two songs in, Edwards’ voice strikes me as too clean and refined-sounding. It’s devoid of character and the lack of variety in her intonation and the general monotony of the instrumentation makes the songs drag. It’s all indicative of the operatic indie sound that’s becoming too commonplace for its own good.
- “A Soft Place To Land” – A soft, slow ballad is not what we need at this point in the album. Edwards occasionally evokes Jessica Lea Mayfield, but her voice isn’t nearly as interesting. I don’t like where the album is going.
- “Change The Sheets” – I’m really not digging the album’s overproduction, which continues here. There’s just nothing special going on. Perhaps with more gritty instrumentation, Edwards could get me to feel something other than disconnect and boredom. The ambient sounds here don’t help.
- “House Full Of Empty Rooms” – The song titles are also starting to irk me. After the kind of songs so far, I can almost anticipate the bad poetry and mind-numbing instrumentation that awaits. I’ve never taken Aimee Mann for granted, but I’m compelled to play one of her albums right now and be reminded of what quality female indie rock sounds like.
- “Mint” – OK, so now you bring in the Sheryl Crow guitar? Maybe this track would have impressed me back in the Lilith Fair days, but in 2012 it’s so hackneyed that it negates any effort Edwards put into the song. The CIA could use this track (and hell, this whole album) for interrogation torture and it would be effective.
- “Sidecar” – The track has been getting play on “The World Cafe” and is my reason for approaching Voyageur. It’s still a solid standalone (the only track under three minutes!) and Edwards actually sounds interested in…well…being interesting, but in the context of the entire album, it’s too little too late. The overproduction is still troublesome, yet she manages to break loose of her operatic ballad style and mix things up enough to make a memorable track.
- “Pink Champagne” – It’s almost like “Sidecar” was made by another artist. Edwards again mires herself in the drawn out purgatory of Voyageur’s earlier tracks and drags the album back down from the promise of its standout track. “I don’t want to feel this way,” she sings. You and me both! This is wrist-cutting music at its worst.
- “Going To Hell” – Yes, Kathleen, after exposing me to such horrible music, you are indeed headed to Satan’s lair. Another drawn out, ridiculous song. Move along. Nothing to see here.
- “For The Record” – As Voyageur has worn on, I’ve seen this seven-minute track waiting for me at the end like a colonoscopy appointment. Honestly, it’s not as bad as I feared and keeps Voyageur from being a one-star album. Vibraphones add needed character to a now expected slow tempo and for only the second time on the album, a surprisingly vulnerable Edwards sounds invested in making something memorable. If only she could take “For The Record” and “Sidecar,” abandon the rest, and start anew.
Unless you enjoy reheated indie pop leftovers, steer clear of Voyageur. It’s a perfect example of modern singer/songwriter music gone wrong and Vernon’s ridiculous overproduction does Edwards no favors. Fellow musicians would do well to study the album as a blueprint of what not to do.