After releasing only two albums, Canadian native Kathleen Edwards has established herself as an emergent voice on the alternative music scene. Compared to artists like Lucinda Williams, and drawing from classic songsmiths like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, the 26-year-old singer has won praise for her gritty songwriting about relationships. Edwards's reputation as an up-and-coming singer was also bolstered when she opened for established acts including the Rolling Stones and AC/DC, and it didn't hurt her budding career that Rolling Stone magazine named her as one of 2003's top ten artists to watch. "Every so often, a singer and songwriter emerges from the murk," wrote Ed Bumgardner in the Winston-Salem Journal, "who has the ways and means to express the most desolate and intimate moments, illuminating the crucial forks in life's crooked road."
Edwards was born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1979, but her father was in the Foreign Service (eventually becoming an ambassador) and her family lived in Korea and Switzerland. She started violin lessons at five, began playing the guitar at 12, and eventually broadened her musical palette by attending summer camps. Formative influences ranged from Neil Young to Ani DiFranco, and grew to include Sinead O'Connor and Annie Lennox. As a teen, Edwards began to take music more seriously, but frequent moves left her feeling alienated. "My last years of high school were a really brutal time," she told Jim Farber in the New York Daily News. "When I finally got home I didn't feel connected with my peer group." After high school Edwards began to perform on the street in downtown Ottawa for free, but eventually joined the local music scene, leading to the recording of an EP, Building 55, in 1999. Thanks to the EP, Edwards was soon opening for Canadian favorites Jane Siberry and Hayden.
Although Edwards released Failer in 2003 on Zoë/Rounder, the album had been recorded two years earlier in Ottawa, at the end of 2001. The album's songs, written in rural Quebec where she had moved following a bad romantic break-up, were given an alternative country edge. "Part of the fascination with Failer is undoubtedly with its subject matter," wrote Andrew Gilstrap in Pop Matters. The material would only reach a larger audience one year later when Edwards opened for Richard Buckner at the South by Southwest show in 2002. An impressive stage show led to an offer by Zoë, a record label associated with the Rounder Group.
Released at the beginning of 2003, Failer was warmly embraced by Rolling Stone and other reviewers, and Edwards soon found herself performing on The Late Show With David Letterman and opening for Bob Dylan. "It's an impressive debut," wrote Gilstrap, "even more so when you stop to consider that many songwriters with many more years can't pull off the devastating effect of some of Edwards's lyrics." Listeners also found the album title intriguing, since the word "Failer" could not be found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
When Edwards returned to the studio to record her sophomore effort, she was apprehensive about matching the quality of her first album. Although she felt that the songs she had written were solid, she worried about her ability to perform them. "I got to the studio and totally choked," she told Wes Orshoski in Paste. "I freaked out for the first couple of weeks. I was like, 'This sucks' and 'What are we doing?.' I was doubting everything." Given time, however, and with the help of producer-guitarist Colin Cripps, Edwards finished the album. "Colin has made a huge contribution," Edwards told Dave Dawson in NU Country. "He has great perspective from his experience."
Released in 2005, Back to Me revealed a performer who was willing to expand her songwriting palette. "I consciously tried not to make another record that was all about relationships," she told Dawson. "Pink Emerson Radio" moved from boy and girl break-up territory to nostalgia, while "Summerlong" showed her capable of writing a positive autobiographical song about a relationship. "Back to Me is a powerful and affecting album," wrote Mark Deming in All Music Guide, "from an artist who is quickly establishing herself as a major talent."
Edwards has also gained a reputation for her vivacious live shows that include banter with the audience and covers of material ranging from AC/DC's "Money Talks" to Black Sabbath's "Changes." "There's enough romantic disappointment in Kathleen Edwards's songs to make Cupid despondently ditch his quiver and head for the hills," wrote Nick Kelly in the London Times. "But heartbreak never seems so bad when it's accompanied by the plaintive twang of Rickenbacker guitars."
One key to both Failer and Back to Me has been Edwards's strong writing. "I like writing songs that are stories about life," she told Scott Mervis in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "and it might not be my life, but I think it's somebody's life." Like Lucinda Williams, her ability to write revealing and hard-hitting songs has given her lyrics a sharper edge and grittier realism than the typical songwriter. "I never wanted to be one of those rambling, emotional female songwriters who talks about her inner girliness," she told Jim Farber in the Houston Chronicle. "I wanted to tell stories that were more dynamic. And most of the writers I admire are men."
Despite the dark quality of her lyrics, however, Edwards told Orshoski that listeners cannot take her music as straight autobiography. "People think that I'm dark and brooding and suicidal. You know what it is? I have all this pent-up, like, darkness and then I get it out, and then when I see people, I'm like, 'Hey! My name's Happy!.'" Edwards also experienced a life change when her relationship with Cripps turned from professional to personal, and they married. "I won't lie," she told Larry Katz in the Boston Herald. "It's been a little difficult for me writing while being in a happy relationship. But it's a challenge. I want to show that I have more potential as a songwriter than someone who hooked up and broke up and wrote about it in a clever way."
For the Record …
Born in 1979, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; married Colin Cripps.
Recorded Failer, 2001, released the album on Zoë, 2003; opened for Bob Dylan, 2003; released Back to Me, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Rounder Records, One Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140, phone: (617) 354-0700, website: http://www.rounder.com. Website—Kathleen Edwards Official Website: http://www.kathleenedwards.com.
Failer, Zoë, 2003.
Back to Me, Zoë, 2005.
Boston Herald, May 10, 2005, p. 40.
Houston Chronicle, March 13, 2005, p.5.
New York Daily News, March 4, 2005.
Times (London, England), April 15, 2005, p. 18.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 12, 2005.
Winston-Salem Journal, March 21, 2003, p. E9.
"Failer," Pop Matters, http://www.popmatters.com/ (May 10, 2005).
"Kathleen Edwards," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (May 10, 2005).
"Kathleen Edwards Interview," NU Country, http://www.nucountry.com/ (May 10, 2005).
"Kathleen Edwards," Paste, http://www.pastemagazine.com/ (May 10, 2005).
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