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Kathleen Edwards 

Failer

Wednesday, Jan 29 2003
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It's pretty easy to nail Kathleen Edwards as "the next Lucinda Williams," since the frequent comparison is hardly unfair. On the opening tracks of Edwards' debut album, Failer, the Canadian roots-rocker strains to mimic Williams' raspy vocal style, while the morose undercurrent of her lyrics -- fraught with sexual yearning and a frank attitude toward drinking and getting high -- is equally familiar. Yet Edwards' theatrical writing style may hold more in common with that of Freedy Johnston, whose skillful mix of twangy urban folk and hook-laden power pop echoes throughout Failer's 10 tightly crafted tunes.

The record's first track is a melodrama about a small-town hostage-taker whose pregnant girlfriend watches him shot down by the police on the local news. The song's the same sort of mildly contrived creative-writing exercise that Johnston excels at; once discerning listeners get past the musical sugarcoating, they're either charmed by the conceit or consider it a little too gimmicky. Edwards' strongest suit -- like Johnston's -- is her hook-filled melodies. Song after song features canny, alluring riffs, with her most concentrated one-two punch coming on the irony-laden chorus of "One More Song the Radio Won't Like." This glum, infectious anthem, although dedicated to the songwriters who struggle outside the stylistic ghettos of the monolithic music industry, is also the tune most likely to earn Edwards widespread recognition. That she follows this gem with her album's only real clunker, the ill-conceived "Hockey Skates" (which has a chorus only a Canadian could love), simply points out her youthful naiveté.

Edwards has deliberately chosen a difficult path, skirting the edges of an unprofitable altcountry scene while displaying a flair for catchy mainstream songwriting. Eventually, she may find a home with the "adult contemporary" crowd, wedged somewhere between Aimee Mann and Bruce Springsteen, but for now, fans of edgier, more rural-sounding music will find her worth rallying 'round.

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Lawrence Kay

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