Co-produced by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon – who also provides backing vocals and plays guitar, piano, organ, bass, banjo and xylophone on the record – vast similarities to can be made to his band’s latest eponymous record. The production is crisp, yet fluid, as each instrument and vocal shines individually, yet works harmoniously together. Recorded in the multiple surroundings of Fall Creek, Wisconsin and Toronto, ‘Voyageur’ also evokes the similar nature and place-driven imagery of Bon Iver, while also delivering on the title’s promise to take its listener on their very own journey.
This feeling of movement is evident throughout ‘Voyageur’s entirety, illustrated on opening track ‘Empty Threat’ and its chorus’ lyrics: “I’m moving to America, it’s an empty threat,” through to ‘Pink Champagne’s “Thinking the grass could be greener at last.” Meanwhile, on second track ‘Chameleon/Comedian’ Edwards’ sings: “You’re a chameleon and you hide behind your darker side,” before continuing: “I don’t need a punch line.” As a violin intertwines with electric guitar notes, these eerie lyrics weave their way to the forefront of the song, demonstrating her renewed interest in bringing to life her own autobiographical, first-person narratives rather than the tragic characters portrayed in older songs such as ‘Six O Clock News’ and ‘Alicia Ross’.
Partnership is a key component within ‘Voyageur’, and as well as featuring members of Edwards’ touring band, also present is a cast of collaborators such as Bon Iver’s Sean Carey, Norah Jones, Stornoway and Francis And The Lights. ‘A Soft Place To Land’ – a duet with Vernon – is the first track to observe vocal contribution. Through her multiple rhyming couplets, particularly, “I’m looking for a soft place to land/ The forest floor, the palms of your hands,” the pair highlight their tender twin vocals. Later, ‘House Full Of Empty Rooms’ begins quietly, almost to the point of seeming a capella, before soft piano notes and Vernon’s tenor vocals creep in once again, their dual vocals a deliciously harmonious match, and one of the album’s standout features.
Wrapped in an aura of relative tranquillity, ‘Voyageur’s first thunderous moment comes during the wonderfully uplifting ‘Change The Sheets’, a song that witnesses the record at its most joyous. Originally heard on her recently released 7” ‘Wapusk’, ‘Change The Sheets’ is a keyboard–driven powerhouse of elation, as her lyrics: “Change the feel under my feet/ Change the sheets, then change me,” welcome a hopeful sense of transformation within the record’s personal expedition.
At the album’s centre is the dual intensity of ‘Sidecar’ and ‘Mint’, both written with Edwards’ long-time collaborator Jim Bryson. ‘Mint’ and its classic rock beginnings and choral harmonies sounds akin to mid-90s Sheryl Crow, particularly as she sings: “God knows I want to/ God knows I need to/ God doesn’t know you like I do.” Meanwhile, organ-inspired seven-minute closer ‘For The Record’ negates a different path altogether. ‘Hang me up on your cross,’ Edwards laments, ‘For the record, I only wanted to sing songs.’ Here, Norah Jones shares vocal duties, demonstrating another high-profile collaboration that works beautifully, yet never detracts away from Edwards’ own musical creations and intricacies.
“I just hide behind the songs I write,” sings Edwards on ‘Chameleon/Comedian’. Yet with every song that she performs on ‘Voyageur’ Edwards takes a step closer to becoming the big-name she deserves. For there’s something different about Edwards’ folksy take on music – it’s soft, yet it’s also exciting; it’s occasionally sombre, yet it’s also far from gloomy. Both varied and beautifully evocative, ‘Voyageur’ is the perfect listen for merging wintery wistfulness with ethereal wonder.