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

By David McPherson, May 2005

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Once Edwards hits the road though and gets into this grueling groove, finding her bearings is not a problem. "The band always jokes that I have this built in GPS unit in my head because when we get to towns I always know where we are and know how to get to a place," she says. "I just always make a mental note of remembering stuff, so when I come back, I'm not such a fish out of water.

"I could go to Dublin, Austin, Winnipeg, New York, LA, and I could pretty much get in a car and go any- ' where because I know my way around."

Edwards recently set her GPS system for Austin, Texas where she played a sweaty showcase this past March again at the mammoth South by Southwest Music festival.

It was here that the Americana artist turned industry heads and garnered major-label interest in the U.S. just a few short years ago.

"The first time I went down, Rounder saw me play, and about eight months later we had a deal," she recalls. "It's not like they saw me there, and that was it...they had heard me before. But it's just an amazing place to go and play. By the end of the weekend, I am sick of music, but it's just a great place to play."

Los Angeles is another one of those great places to play, and it was the locale for one of Edwards' most memorable gigs in the summer of 2004 when she was part of Sin City: The Gram Parsons Tribute show.

For this songbird, this enlightening experience truly was a Californian dream.

"I had been to California a bunch of times and played and toured there, but it was the ultimate California music scene with Polly Parsons (Gram's daughter) being there and all these people that grew up revering her father and that whole culture of the California folk-rock scene," she says. "It almost brings to mind the Neil Young Topanga Canyon years ... it was so cool to just be plunked into it."

"Even though the faces have changed and the music has changed...I totally got the feeling that the spirit of what that was and the energy of that was still so there even last summer," she continues. "You do stuff like Leno, but this is the stuff where you really connect with people, you make friends and you feel you are part of a community. I really hit it off with this guy called (X band member) John Doe who is a real cult hero of the rockabilly and cowpunk scene."

Edwards didn't know anything about Parsons until the last few years and admits that most of her influences are the people whom he influenced - the more recent resurgence of alt.-country artists such as Wilco, Whiskeytown and Richard Buckner.

"I love Whiskeytown's 'Strangers Almanac'," she says. "I didn't even know what alt.-country was when I heard that stuff I just knew that I loved the arrangements, I loved the minimalism of it ... how every part felt like it had its place. I then became more aware of what their influences were and continued to find my own. The last few years I have totally been in love with Elvis. I like the cheesy Vegas Elvis, and I love Dusty Springfield. "

"I also love Big band arrangements as that stuff always sounds so warm," she continues. "I feel that's how records should sound in a way. I don't feel obviously that my record sounds like that, but maybe I can make a record like that one day."

On "Back to Me," there are no gimmicks, just great players and some heartfelt country roots-rock. On this disc, which was mixed in Los Angeles by Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Whiskeytown), Edwards was joined by some new members of her songwriting circle of friends. My Morning Jacket's Jim James (whom Edwards met at the Gram Parsons Tribute show last summer) lends his vocals to "Independent Thief."

Overall, "Back to Me" has a theme of absence - the 26-year-old songwriter is documenting all the changes that life as a professional musician has created since the success of "Failer."

"'Copied Keys' for me is the song that is most reflective of what the record is about," she concludes. "I think for the most part the record is a lot about absence. I moved from Ottawa to be here (Toronto), and I pretty much spent the last two years on the road before I started making this record, and as much as it's been an amazing experience, it's been a pretty shockingly huge change for me, and there are a lot of things in my life now that are very different."

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