Kathleen Edwards Packs Her Alt-Country Songs with Emotional Power on 'Total Freedom'

BY Sam BoerPublished Aug 14, 2020

Kathleen Edwards's Total Freedom, which signals a return to music after a nearly six-year hiatus, is a reminder that vulnerability has always been her greatest strength. Since this Ottawa-based singer-songwriter's powerful debut, Failer in 2003, Edwards has become renowned for spinning small, colloquial truths into concise, touching statements, often clad in lush full-band arrangements; her most recent record proves that this formula — though tried, and perhaps a tad tired — remains true.

Take, for instance, her meditation on homegrown, on-your-own peace, "Birds on  Feeder," in which she beckons, "Come on feelings, won't you go away?" Here, Edwards's unshowy voice captures this intimate feeling with acoustic guitar, autoharp, dripping piano keys, and lush sonic atmosphere tying it together as an evident, emotive scene. Or consider "Ashes to Ashes," where Edwards' announces, "The world is on fire, God is not in the clouds," as the guitar plucks and the floor tom drums.

This album so often showcases Edwards making statements packed with immediate feeling over somewhat predictable, inoffensive arrangements, resting on her laurels while exploring this new phase in her life and career: returning to the industry after famously packing it in, taking time and space for the good of her mental health, and starting the successful Quitters café. This is most evident on the album highlight, "Options Open," in which Edwards proclaims, with refreshing clarity and openness, "For 39 years I've been keeping my options open."

What is perhaps most surprising is the fact that Edwards is not returning from this hiatus with a new musical statement, per se, but rather with a resurrection of her musical tendencies expressed since her early records. Sonically, Total Freedom could be a reissue of any early 2000s alt-country album — the drums are clean and do the right fills, the electric guitars are just edgy enough to be radio-friendly, the harmonies come in at precisely the logical moments.

Despite the underwhelming musicality of Total Freedom, many of these songs still pack some undeniable emotional force, especially the more joyful tracks like "Who Rescued Who" — a charming ode from Edwards to her dog. In her songcraft, Edwards remains dependable and enjoyable.

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