Proud (2008)


February 10, 2008 at 7 PM


Kathleen Edwards has a new album out next month and bits and pieces of it are streaming from her web site. I’m a sucker for Edwards’s style: a fantastic voice on top of hook-filled rock that keeps its blues, country and folk roots up front and centre. Her tunes are catchy, but there’s something in her lyrics, melodies and harmonies beyond simple pop/rock. In that she shares some similarities with other “alt-country” artists like Neko Case (whom I also adore), but Edwards strikes me as an acute example of a growing branch of the contemporary Canadian music scene, what I might call “Canadiana.”

Perhaps the growth is in recognition and popularity rather than actual production, but every few months I discover another singer-songwriter with a good set of pipes, who isn’t afraid of a steel guitar, and who may or may not be singing about relationships ending or ended. (Some country music clichés are worth keeping true.) One of Edwards’s collaborators, Jim Bryson, put out a top notch album last year, Where the Bungalows Roam. Meanwhile, Bryson has collaborated with another up-and-comer, Kate Maki, who’s newest album, On High, comes out this week.

While I’ve enjoyed a lot of other Canadian artists who’ve risen to stardom the past few years — Broken Social Scene, The New Pornographers, Stars et al. — it’s often asking too much to even comprehend their lyrics, let alone tie them to a particular place or time. And it’s the lyrics that separate the “Canadiana” artists from American artists like Case, or Ryan Adams, that typically aim for a similar sound.

The stories tend to be more small town than big city. They bring to mind wide prairies and long summer days, or icy winds and frozen earth. Edwards’s break-out song was the almost-too-stereotypical “Hockey Skates”, while on her latest album she manages to squeeze in a line about Marty McSorley. Track 1 on Bryson’s 2003 album “The North Side Benches” was “Sleeping in Toronto,” while track 2, the lovely “Somewhere Else” (covered by Edwards on her 2005 album Failer), is all about a town “that I once called home.” One of Maki’s gems is “Mid March Blues”, a term I wouldn’t have understood until I moved from perpetually-green Vancouver to Montreal, where winters frequently blow right past March into mid-April. In short, there’s a real sense of place in their lyrics, often melancholy, often romantic. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t lived there for three years, but some days a musical taste of Canada is just the right thing.

Previously: Tar Sands


"Perhaps it’s because I haven’t lived there for three years, but some days a musical taste of Canada is just the right thing." I know what you mean. Bruce Cockburn's "Coldest Night of the Year" gives me a powerful nostalgic feeling for Toronto, where I grew up but no longer live. There's no equivalent to "the coldest night of the year" where I live now. And The Tragically Hip's "Wheat Kings" transports me to Saskatchewan. It's not just that I lived in those places when I first heard those songs, although that's certainly part of it. The songs seem to carry a sense of the place within them -- "Coldest" in the lyrical theme, and "Wheat" in the melody and arrangement.

— Tedd, February 16, 2008

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