Why Kathleen Edwards should win the Polaris Prize

Kathleen Edwards as the Polaris short list announcement.
Dustin Rabin Photography

by Laura Stanley 

Is she a front runner or an underdog? It’s hard to categorize Ottawa’s Kathleen Edwards in this year’s Polaris Music Prize contest. Four albums strong and second Polaris Prize nomination, she earned her first in 2008 with Asking For Flowers, Edwards is not as much of a music question mark compared to some bands on the year’s list thanks to her hearty Canadian fan base.

In Voyageur, record number four, the vulnerability, heartbreak, and honesty that Edwards has put forth in her new record has had listeners in a teary mist since its release at the beginning of the year and now is a strong candidate to win the Prize. Though crying might not always be the best reaction when listening to an album, in this case, a breakup album to its core, take it as a good thing. In a recent Tweet, Edwards wrote, “Writing songs that are personal is like stepping in dog shit and having to smell it everywhere you go.” Despite the unfortunate truth to her statement, it’s the way that Edwards has told her personal story that makes it a deserving Polaris Prize winner.

While some talk to their friends or hide in their rooms for the days (weeks) following a breakup, more specifically a divorce in this case, Edwards wrote an album. Telling the brutal truth and the realizations she’s discovered about her former partner and, more praise worthy, herself (after all, it’s hard to talk about yourself), Edwards does it all in such a polished fashion – no excess lyrical fluff, just raw honesty.

The lyrical strength of Voyageur shows up on countless occasions. In the lulling bitter-sweet tone of “Pink Champagne,” the line “Oh, I can be cruel. So can you” brings the song home while the following verse revealing the truth of both sides of the relationship in “House Full of Empty Rooms” is staggeringly emotional:

“You don’t kiss me,

Not the way that I wish you would

Maybe I don’t look at you

In a way that makes you think you should.”

Lyrics and album theme aside though, Edwards steps out with a changed music style in Voyageur. More poppy, almost “indie-rock” at times, than the previous country fuelled songs that filled her other albums, it’s an ambitious move for Edwards, who’s music style is already love by many, but it’s one that pays off. A music change at a time of change, “Change The Sheets” wouldn’t have sounded as great without the bouncy synth piano intro, “Sidecar” without its chunky drums, or “Going To Hell” without it’s huge guitar solo ending, if it wasn’t for the reworked music style.

In “Empty Threat,” Edwards sings, “Maybe come September I will feel brand new.” Well, hopefully by the end of September a Polaris Prize win will go a long way to make Kathleen Edwards feel brand new.

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