Bleak, depressing, miserable music. I love it. But not always. My moods are quickly changing these days. Today I’ve had my hair cut, I’m off to Norwich in a couple of days and I’ve lost another couple of pounds – now 12 stone 2 lbs. The sun is out, Kent won yesterday and I’m in a more cheerful mood. This is what music is for – to enhance, distill and focus my moods. Miserable music can be an outlet for my most curmudgeonly moments and cheery music can heighten a good mood. Whatever my current state of mind, music can help.
Neil Young made a trilogy of records in the Seventies which have been called his “ditch trilogy”. The phrase comes from his liner notes to the compilation “Decade” in which he referred to “Harvest” as being recorded in the middle of the road. He said he moved over to the side of the road, in the ditch, where it may have been harder going but he met more interesting people there. For me that means the ditch is where I can find music to heal my depressed moods and the middle of the road is where I should be when I’m feeling okay.
The Middle Of The Road is often abbreviated to MOR and it can be used in a derogatory way. However, if anyone wants to tell me that “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Harvest”, “X&Y” or “Tunnel Of Love” are not lovely records to listen to, I’ll start an argument. Of course, there are other similar genres; there’s “Easy Listening”, “Adult Oriented Rock” and even “Soft Rock”. The War On Drugs have been described as “Heartland Rock” which is a genre I really can’t pin down but I guess that’s a term for “Middle Of The Road Rock” (as opposed to “Middle Of The Road”) and maybe that’s the category that this great new album by Kathleen Edwards fits into.
Kathleen Edwards is a Canadian singer songwriter who made four albums between 2003 and 2012. Until a few weeks ago, the only album of hers that I knew was “Voyageur” from 2012, mainly because of an excellent song called “Empty Threat”. This was a song that Pete and I played a lot on our last driving holiday across the USA. The lyrics are slightly ambiguous but there’s a great chorus. “I’m moving to America – it’s an empty threat” which, by the end of the song changes to “I’m moving to America – it’s not an empty threat”. Two old gits driving between Alburquerque and Flagstaff along Highway 40 singing “I’m moving to America” at the top of our voices. Brilliant.
“Voyageur” was produced by Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) with whom she had a relationship. Whilst playing shows to support the album she suffered a crisis of confidence thinking that she wasn’t good enough and feeling that the only reason that she was selling tickets was because Bon Iver fans were hoping he would make an appearance.
Mainly because of “Empty Threat”, I was excited to read that she had a new album coming out and I’ve played it a lot in the two weeks since its release. Its her first new material for eight years and in that time she has taken a break from recording music and opened a coffee shop in a small town in Ontario called “Quitters”. The “Q” from her shop sign is visible in some of the performances that accompany the new album. She has joked that her two sources of income now come from touring to promote her album and welcoming crowds to her coffee shop. Neither of which are currently possible.
The new album is a great listen. It’s easy on the ear – there’s no obvious distress in her voice, there’s no sad fiddle or mournful saxophone solos. The lyrics are not all happy jolly bouncy and optimistic but I’m going to deliberately ignore these in order to focus on the lovely sound that she makes. Most songs are performed with a full band line up of electric guitar, bass and keyboards. The only way I can describe the lead electric guitar is “chiming”. My favourite song is “Hard On Everyone” and there’s a great guitar hook in it which appears after a couple of minutes when the band kicks in.
Russell Murphy on the “Americana UK” website wrote that “this album has a kind of unfussy structure about it, simple arrangements, strong songs and Edwards’ excellent vocal tone keeping everything together. Some of the songs, whilst not on the dark side of the road, are not quite on the bright side of the street, yet the overall feel of the album is upbeat, that sense of total freedom, without perhaps the intensity of previous work. “
Listening to this music gives a sense of “Total Freedom”. Discuss.