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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2003



Kathleen Edwards: "Failer"

Singer-songwriters who take the confessional route run the risk of alienating listeners when they invite them into their psyches. Personality problems and moral inconsistencies are bound to be noticed. That's why so many artists hide their nakedness behind self-deprecation.

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On her debut album, "Failer," Kathleen Edwards, a 24-year-old Canadian who grew up abroad, confesses without the aid of emotional armor. The thing you notice about her singing is its vulnerability, but it's not the hesitant sort that you associate with singer-songwriters. Her voice is all there, bold and in your face, but at the same time it's as fragile as spun sugar.

Listening to Edwards is like listening to someone who doesn't know her house is burning down. She doesn't dress up addiction in "Mercury." She simply repeats a line that indicates what a routine her (or someone's) drug habit has become: "Let's go get high/Mercury is parked outside." When a record company rep comes to see her show in "One More Song the Radio Won't Like," she won't stop drinking long enough to listen to his plan, because she knows she won't like it. "No one likes a girl who won't sober up" is probably his line, though in Edwards' songs it's sometimes difficult to tell whose point of view is being expressed.

Edwards would be difficult to take if it weren't for her ability to couch this contradictory, sometimes immature, orneriness in music that clearly reveals the pain and longing beneath. Even on a burner like "Maria," she maintains an undercurrent of uncertainty that clutches at your heart while the guitars knock you upside the head. As far as Canadian analogs go, her rocking, rootsy style is closer to Neil Young than to Joni Mitchell, but she shares Mitchell's exquisite eye for detail. In "Westby," the story of a motel-room affair with an older married man, she updates Mitchell's ode "Carey" for the trash-TV age: "You passed out so I flicked on the cable/Stole your gold watch off the bedside table." Probably serves him right.

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