Kathleen Edwards' fourth album, Voyageur, is a reinvention that scrapes away the alt-country traditions to reveal an even deeper and richer talent.
Since her first record in 2003, the Canadian has been lauded for her poetic and introspective songwriting. Asking for Flowers, in 2008, had Edwards positioned as an heir to Lucinda Williams. But four years later, Edwards has transcended such comparisons.
The departure that characterizes Voyageur isn't anything radical, but a series of lesser alterations that add up to an unexpected new sound, surprisingly dynamic and provocative. Those alterations—shared songwriting, adding an array keyboards, varied percussion—come courtesy of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, Edwards' new beau. While Vernon had a big hand in playing on and recording Voyageur at his April Base Studios in Fall Creek, Wis., his contributions are merely background. The craftsmanship is Edwards' alone.
From the opening "Empty Threat," Edwards writes, plays and sings with a confidence that comes from rising to meet huge challenges. An album that mixes catharsis with self-empowerment, Voyageur is full of references to the breakup of her marriage and the tumult and itinerant life of a touring musician.
Top cuts on Voyageur—an early contender for 2012's top album—are the propulsive lead single "Change the Sheets," the up-tempo "Sidecar" (co-written with longtime guitarist Jim Bryson) and the plaintive "A Soft Place to Land" (co-written with John Roderick of the Long Winters).
Voyageur is remarkably strong throughout, a record of introspective beauty, yearning and restlessness, and a career-best for the 33-year-old Edwards.