Writing songs about love gone wrong isn't all that difficult. In fact, it's so easy that just about anybody with three chords and a rhyming dictionary can do it. Consequently, we're awash in indistinguishable, cliché-laden laments. The real trick is to write about heartbreak as a fact of human life without wallowing, to explore its bottomless crevasses and come up with something original. On Back to Me, Canada's Kathleen Edwards plumbs those depths and reports her findings to us from a worldly, wistful perspective. Which isn't to say she's passive--she never presents herself as a victim. Given that she's only in her mid-20s (which is, as we all know, prime wallowing age) that's a lovely surprise.
Edwards knows that it takes two to break a heart, and she weaves this hard-won, grown-up revelation throughout Back To Me. The album's revenge-fantasy opener "In State," a follow-up to the singer-songwriter's earlier "Six O' Clock News," plots a cad's fate ("maybe 20 years in state will do you good") without dwelling inordinately on what he's done to deserve it or succumbing to bitterness. Not that she succumbs instead to happiness. Even "Summer Long," a song about the giddy delights of newfound attraction, is tinged with a shade of dread. Edwards sings, "Please don't let this be summer long" with the certain knowledge that more things don't work out than do. But there's a hope-against-hope quality to the song--to the whole record, in fact--that keeps it from being a drag.
Edwards's faintly country vocal style and the instrumentation on Back to Me make this an alt-country record, if we must compartmentalize it. Acoustic guitars and mandolins ring, and all manner of slide guitars sigh and moan on most every song. But it's a pop record as well, one for anyone more interested in the beauty of reality than the false promises of extremes.
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