Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Kathleen Edwards

This post is courtesy of TwoBusy, whose music commentary we dig very much:

It’s a subtle thing. When you try to describe the music of Kathleen Edwards to someone who doesn’t know her – or who, God help them, is unaware of the sometimes raucous and sometimes sepia-tinged pleasures of alt-country – it can be difficult to find the words to define what it is about her work that makes it such an intimate and unexpectedly moving experience.

That’s not to say that it’s not fun. Not at all. Take a quick scan through YouTube footage of some of her live performances and you’ll find example after example of a woman who, above and beyond her considerable skills as a performer, is also legitimately funny and engaging as an on-stage presence. That wry sense of humor makes its way into some of her music, as well — watch the videos for either I Make The Dough, You Get the Glory (featuring perhaps the greatest- ever incorporation of Marty McSorley into a song) or The Cheapest Key from her most recent album, Asking For Flowers, and you’ll get a sense of the dry wit and laconic sensibility that offers a welcome balance to the more quietly devastating tangents taken by many of her other songs.

In this sense, her work trods similar psychic territory to that explored by Bill Morrissey and Joe Pernice. It’s not that her music necessarily sounds like theirs – although you certainly wouldn’t be completely off-base in placing her CDs next to theirs on the shelf – but there’s a wonderfully sardonic attitude at work in the music of all three, where lovely, instantly memorable melodies are wedded to carefully-wrought lyrics that waver song-to-song and sometimes even moment- to-moment from the heart wrenchingly sad to the wonderfully offbeat. It’s a really wonderful dichotomy, and one that rewards you for paying attention to the music.

And maybe that’s the subtle part: the fact that careful listening matters. Sure, you can sit back at the ‘Comber (or in your living room) and take long sips of that chilly beer and soak up the songcraft of What Are You Waiting For or One More Song The Radio Won’t Play and bob your head along in time with her terrifically laconic (there’s that word again) voice as it traces a careful path through the music… and you can have a perfectly good time doing it. But it’s when you really hone in on what she’s saying – and how she’s saying it – that you begin to discover the full reward of Kathleen Edwards’ songs.

Because her lyrics… man. These aren’t lyrics in the everyday sense of words-that-accompany-a-melody. These are, at times, short stories set to music. And like Pernice and Morrissey – and, for that matter, Richard Buckner and some of the earlier work of both Lisa Germano and Mark Eitzel – they’re stories of yearning and loss, memory and failure, ambition fallen short and dreams never realized. If you’ve read the stories of Raymond Carver or the novels of Russell Banks, it’s a landscape you’ll recognize. And like all of those other writers/artists, the stories she tells are as powerful for what she doesn’t say as they are for the words that actually find voice. Listen to Pink Emerson Radio or Hockey Skates – or, for the experience in its truest form, Mercury – and you’ll find an ache between the words that feels miles wide, years deep, vast and lonesome and unmistakably real.

Kathleen Edwards is playing at the Beachcomber on Friday, July 16th. And you
no longer have any excuse not to go.

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