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After "Failer" for Kathleen Edwards, it's "Back to Me"

By David McPherson, May 2005

The last three years have been a blur for Kathleen Edwards. Music critics hailed the singer-songwriter's major-label debut, "Failer," (2002) for its honesty and succinct songwriting.

Rolling Stone named the 26-year-old as one of the 10 artists to watch in 2003, and the New York Times praised Edwards as a writer whose songs can "pare situations down to a few dozen words while they push country-rock towards its primal impulses of thump and twang."With "Back to Me," released in March on Rounder, the talented troubadour attempts to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

Despite her past success, she was nervous heading into Toronto's Reaction studio to record "Back to Me" due to the inherent pressure and expectations from fans, record company executives and most importantly herself.

"I think going into it, I was like I'm definitely not going to allow myself to succumb to the external forces that tend to impose that (pressure)," Edwards explains. "Then, I actually started doing it, and I realized 'Holy shit.' I totally was struggling with the feeling...what am I doing here...is this like 'Failer?" Is it different? Is it more produced? Is it too produced? Are the songs as good as the first record, and I definitely went through a couple of weeks where I was really uncertain as to whether or not what I was doing was any good."

A few listens of "Back to Me" are all the proof one needs to realize that this roots-rocker has overcome the sophomore jinx. "Back to Me" is better than good. She has produced another disc filled with solid country-rock that has equal parts thump and equal parts twang.

The 11 tracks run the gamut from sleepy acoustic alt.-country ballads ("Away") to chugging rockabilly numbers ("Back to Me.") The disc opens with the cow-punk song, "In State" that echoes "Six O'clock News." Edwards' first single from "Failer."

Edwards wrote most of the songs over the course of the last few years, some even are lingering thoughts and ideas from the pre-Failer days. The only song that was written in the studio was "Old-Times Sake."

"About 60 per cent of the songs, I had in the bank," she reveals. "Some of them were from even before I started touring for 'Failer' because there was a long period of time between the time I finished that record and the time it actually got put out and I started doing stuff. So, I had a bunch of songs half done or had lyrics for, and I had worked on a lot of the songs prior to finishing touring."

"The title cut 'Back to Me' I had already worked on the lyrics for a long time ago, but I had it in a totally different musical accompaniment. It was a lot slower and more melodic," she continues.

"But then I had this musical idea to do this real 'chuggy-like' Texan-like acoustic rock, and I just sort of started playing this thing, and (husband/guitarist/producer) Colin (Cripps) and I ended up collaborating on the musical end of that song, and it just came out a lot cooler and a lot more appropriate to the lyrics...it had a different energy all of a sudden."

The spunky Edwards' rarely needs an energy boost, but if the moment arises, her band is there to pep her up. These road comrades for endless months over the past few years were the same support group that joined her for the "Back to Me" sessions.

"I'm lucky that I have surrounded myself with the same people," she says. "My touring band was pretty much the band on the record, so if anyone would tell me it sucks, it was them."

"I'm a confident person in feeling what I do is good, but that's only to me, and I know that there are going to be people who like this record less than the first one, and there are going to be people who didn't like either, and the second one will be no exception," she adds. "I've come to realize that it really is about knowing that for you it's good, rather than for the audience, as much as that's important. If you sing it and play it like you love it, then people are going to respond to that, and they are going to listen."

Following the whirlwind of the past few years - on the road for 200 shows in support of "Failer" that included such highs as playing SARStock, "Sin City: The Gram Parsons Tribute" show in Los Angeles and repeated appearances on late night TV (Letterman and Leno) - Edwards took a well deserved break before doing a few shows with Cripps in Ireland last fall.

On the Emerald Isle, Edwards opened for American songwriter Josh Ritter. After this short sabbatical, it took a while for the roots rocker to regain her bearings.

"The first show in Cork, I was out of practice," she says. "I hadn't been on stage in quite some time to do a 45-minute set, and I went up there to do it, and my attitude of 'is this any good' definitely came across to the audience, and people didn't respond to me very well. The following night, I had gotten that out of my head, I said 'hey we are doing stuff that's okay, and let's just go out there and make them think that they are listening to something that is worth listening to,' and people responded totally differently."

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