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At A Glance
After being hailed as one of the finest and most distinctive singer-songwriters to emerge in 2003, Kathleen Edwards is poised to vault to the front rank of contemporary music with her superlative sophomore album, Back To Me. Back To Me (out March 1 on Zoë/Rounder) features 11 new songs that cover an ambitious range of themes, styles and emotions: from the brash bracingly-delivered self-confidence of the driving title cut to unique takes on matters of the heart on “Old Time Sake” and “Summerlong” to the bruised emotions of “Independent Thief” and “Away,” climaxing with the hard-earned wisdom of “Good Things.” The New York Times praised Edwards as a writer whose songs can “pare situations down to a few dozen words while they push country-rock towards its primal impulses of thump and twang," and on Back To Me, she once again demonstrates that she can rock hard but also move a listener with heart stopping insights. “It's always been important to me that my records work as an album – that it isn't just a collection of songs, but something that creates a real, vivid, three-dimensional portrait. And I don't want to rely on the same dynamic and style on every song. I want to use every crayon in the box, and I feel like I accomplished that with Back To Me,” says Edwards. The 26-year-old singer-songwriter's 2003 debut Failer started as an indie project recorded with friends in the Ottawa music scene. It was released by MapleMusic in Canada and Zoë/Rounder in the U.S., and on the strength of three singles – “Six O'Clock News,” “One More Song The Radio Won't Like” and “Hockey Skates” – Failer was acclaimed as one of the finest debut records in recent memory. No Depression said the album marked “the arrival of a rare talent.” Rolling Stone declared her one of year's most promising new acts and Blender said Failer's songs possessed “an indefinable pull that makes you love the characters they describe, no matter how fucked up they are.” Edwards toured relentlessly with Failer, collecting an armload of accolades and fans around the world. “Failer was made really without any preconceptions or expectations,” says Edwards. “I was just working with my friends and trying to make the best record I could. I don't think even in my wildest dreams I imagined I'd end up on Letterman and Leno, touring everywhere and opening for The Stones and AC/DC and Bob Dylan. I wasn't aiming for any of that, but it all happened.” "When it came time to make Back To Me, I tried to put all that aside and really focused on the job at hand, which is writing and recording songs that say what I want to say and making music with my friends and people I trust and admire,” Edwards says. The album was mixed in Los Angeles by Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Whiskeytown) and was recorded over the course of nine months at Toronto's Reaction studio, with Edwards' touring band (Colin Cripps – guitar, Kevin McCarragher – bass, Joel Anderson – drums) providing core support. Production was handled by Cripps, and guests on the record include My Morning Jacket's Jim James (who lends his voice to “Independent Thief”), keyboardists Benmont Tench (best known for his work with Tom Petty's Heartbreakers – a favorite of Edwards'), Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan) and Richard Bell (The Band, Janis Joplin). Edwards' pal, Ottawa-based singer songwriter Jim Bryson, sings on “Summerlong” and she also covers Bryson's “Somewhere Else.” Edwards says Cripps was crucial to ensuring Back To Me delivered on Failer's promise. “Colin knows me so well, knows my songs better than anyone, and he stayed true to making the album that I wanted to make. I knew I could trust him and that made everything come together really naturally." The leadoff track, “In State,” echoes back to Failer's opening cut, “Six O'Clock News.” “I was just imagining what might have led up to the police standoff in 'Six O'Clock News.' It's a very different kind of song, but I wanted to explore how someone gets into that kind of desperate situation.” “Pink Emerson Radio” examines her own relocation to Toronto as well as recalling a long-ago escape from an apartment fire. “I just instinctively grabbed my violin and my guitar. Those situations test you; they force you to define what matters in your life.” “Independent Thief” and “Old Time Sake” (the latter co-written with Peter Cash of The Cash Brothers) are haunted by the ghost of past relationships, whereas “Away” audibly aches for the comfort of distant friends. Edwards' describes the buoyant “Summerlong” as “probably the most straightforward I'm-in-love song I will ever write.” If there's a theme running through the album, it is absence; not surprising from someone who put in over 200 shows in support of Failer and spent the early part of her life traveling with her family. Her father served as a Canadian diplomat and the Edwards clan spent years in both Korea and Switzerland. During that time she studied classical violin but when she returned to Ottawa, she picked up the guitar and began writing songs. “Good Things” touches on the comforts of family (There are some things that I believe/Like if you've got nothing you've still got your family) and was inspired by her brother. As surely as Edwards was able to return her focus to her songwriting and recording, the songs on Back To Me acknowledge that, for her personally, some things have changed. “The song 'Away' was written on one of the few days off I had from touring last year,” she says. “The toughest part of touring for me was the fact that I wasn't returning to what had been my home for so long, and my friends weren't around. I covered Jim Bryson's song 'Somewhere Else' because it was a song I always connected with, especially because it was about dislocation. 'Copied Keys' is a song I wrote when I had just started living in Toronto, and now that I look back, I realize that a new chapter in my life was starting, and that the song really shows how reluctant I was to accept it." If there's one thing Edwards' travels showed her, though, it is that the music world, too, is ripe for change. “I do get a sense that there is a change coming. People are getting tired of a lot of the safe, predictable, plastic music that has been shoved at them in recent years. They responded to my record and I know there's this big reservoir of music, and of music lovers, that have been waiting for something new, something a little more substantial. As a music fan, I'm hoping that change does happen. And as singer and songwriter, I'd love to be a part of it.” Or, as she sings on Back To Me's title cut: I've got ways to make you sing my songs/Ones I ain't written yet/I've got lights you've never seen/I've got moves I've never used/I've got ways to make you come/Back To Me. So welcome back, Kathleen Edwards.
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