Old soul, fresh potential

Kathleen Edwards proves she's no Failer

Wednesday March 19, 2003 12:04 am EST

Everyone knows what Kathleen Edwards sounds like.

In the business of music, when no one knows your name, you have to sound like someone. And when you're a young Canadian alt-country singer/songwriter, you could do worse than sounding like Lucinda Williams.

Or as Rolling Stone proclaims, "Lucinda Williams fronting Crazy Horse." Then there's Entertainment Weekly's "Lucinda Williams x Sarah McLachlan" assessment. Or, counters Marie Claire, "Think Cowboy Junkies with an Alison Krauss twang."

Time, meanwhile, places her squarely "between Lucinda Williams and Sheryl Crow."

Give it a little time, and Edwards might even draw comparisons to Grammy winner Norah Jones. Both are classically trained musicians — Jones on piano, Edwards on violin. Each is nearing 24, with looks that are sexy in the most organic sense. Both write personal, honest lyrics that make them sound too mature for their age.

Still, it's impossible to listen to "Six O'Clock News," the opening track from Edwards' debut, Failer, and not think Lucinda. Country twang + raspy, mature voice + frank storytelling = Lucinda all the way. But Edwards refuses to be pigeonholed. Her voice may sound familiar, but the stories are definitely her own. The warmth and humor in a line like, "I don't want to be your friend/Just take off your clothes and get into my bed" takes the hard-ass woman and softens her a bit.

Edwards is grateful for the media name game. After all, it helps sell albums and tickets. Initially, though, it was a point of confusion for her.

"I appreciate the comparison, but it's a double-edged sword," says Edwards. "It enables people to get a general idea of where I'm coming from. But by being compared to someone, there's an assumption that they're a major influence. That's not the case in my example."

Edwards claims to own only one Williams album, Essence, and to have been much more influenced by the independent spirit and songwriting of Ani DiFranco. Growing up listening to and reading about DiFranco, she says, fueled her desire to write and record music. And in the true indie, girl-changes-world spirit, Edwards is head of her own company, Potty Mouth Productions. How very Righteous Babe. Lending credence to her Americana foundation, Edwards also is a fan of Tom Petty and Whiskeytown, and she's toured with Richard Buckner.

But when it's time to get serious, it's best to forget who influenced her, and let the music speak for itself. Failer is rife with a world-weariness that seems out of place for someone her age. The dicey adult subject matter that colors tracks such as "Westby" (about an affair with a married man), and the numerous references to failed relationships and drunken binges, sound like the confessions of a woman twice her age.

Go ahead, blame it on her parents. The daughter of a Canadian diplomat, Edwards spent her formative years split mainly between Switzerland and Korea. "You grow up a lot quicker than the people who've never traveled," she says. "I have more of a sense of myself — knowing that I could basically depend on myself."

Perhaps that's what gave her the strength to forgo college and begin playing local clubs after high school. It also might explain her savviness when questioned about the facts behind a line like, "I dance dirty for you cuz it turns you on/And I'm a little bleeder with white pants on."

"I have a hard time talking about the songs," says Edwards. "I kinda wrote the songs so I didn't have to talk about them."

No kidding.


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