July 25 — “A Soft Place to Land” by Kathleen Edwards

Kathleen Edwards

If you only listen to one song today, make it “A Soft Place to Land” by Kathleen Edwards (2012, from the album Voyageur).
Kathleen Edwards is a folk/pop/alt-country singer/songwriter from Ottawa. Believe it or not, I do listen to things other than shoegaze, dream pop indie pop, post-rock, and noise-rock. She’s been active since 1999, and she released her debut record —Failer— in early 2003. In January of this year, she released Voyageur, her fourth album. That new album was met with very favorable reviews, and it has been shortlisted for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize. Her 2008 album Asking For Flowers was shortlisted for that year’s Polaris Prize, but Caribou won with his album Andorra.

I’m not crazy about this year’s short list. The only two shortlisted records that I give a damn about are the ones by Feist and by Kathleen Edwards. Of those two, I’m more into the Voyageur than I am Metals. I know what you’re thinking, and I’ll say that I just can’t get into Japandroids. They don’t do anything at all for me. Most of my like-minded friends love them, but I just can’t find the time to care. It’s a matter of personal preference. I also don’t like the Grimes record that everyone is going bananas over. As for Fucked Up, I don’t care about them either. Plus, they’ve already won one Polaris Prize. They don’t need another. Realistically speaking, I’m pretty sure that Japandroids is going to win the prize, but I’m still hoping against hope that it’s Kathleen Edwards. We’ll know on September 24.

Kathleen Edwards grew up as the daughter of a diplomat, so she spent a lot of her childhood overseas. Unrelated to that, she studied the violin from age 5 to 17. Back in Canada after high school, she opted not to go to college, but to try her hand at being a professional musician. So far, it’s worked out pretty well.

It’s hard to say what Kathleen Edwards “sounds like”, because it’s a long list. Sometimes, she reminds me of Aimee Mann. Sometimes, of Shawn Colvin. Sometimes, of Neko Case. Sometimes of her frequent collaborator Hannah Georgas. Even a little bit, on some of her more rock-y songs, of Liz Phair. One one track (the hit single “Change the Sheets”), I’m reminded of The Cranberries. On today’s song, there’s a really short bit where I’m reminded of Sharon Van Etten.

This album is a really personal one, and she wanted to get more into the “rock” side. I prefer the folky, contry-ish songs, and that’s why I picked today’s song. A lot of the songs, she says, were influenced by her recent divorce from longtime collaborator Colin Cripps. Shortly after that, she went to Wisconsin to work on her new record. There, she met and worked with Justin Vernon from Bon Iver. He ended up producing and guest appearing on the album, and they became a couple.

You can hear Vernon doing the backing vocals on today’s song. This is that song.

“A Soft Place to Land” by Kathleen Edwards

Right there at the beginning, I hear that tiny little bit where I think of Sharon Van Etten. It’s only at 0:38, when she sings “You think this is easy”. At 1:27, her boyfriend Justin Vernon chimes in with his backing vocals, and it’s really amazing. He’s also playing the vibraphone on this track.

She’s said that this song was inspired by a forested area across the street from her parents’ house.

As a child I would cross the street and play in the forest. There was a stretch of pine trees that had grown tall and were untouched and protected by the elements and so all the needles that would fall lay on the forest floor. When you walked through the trees, your feet would sink down like walking on a cloud. So I wrote the chorus with this image, ‘I’m looking for/A soft place to land/the forest floor/the palms of your hands.'(source)

Although her music speaks for itself, I have to admit that I like Kathleen Edwards a little more because she’s apparently a pretty serious hockey fan. On her first record, there’s a song called “Hockey Skates”. It’s not about hockey, but there is the reference

I’m tired of playing defence
I don’t even have hockey skates

Since she’s from Ottawa, I’ll assume that she’s a Sens fan, but I can’t verify that. In 2008, she told The Hockey News that she follows the Stanley Cup playoffs and watches games while the band is on the road. They even get score updates via their laptop while they’re on stage. You’re wondering why she was being interviewed by The Hockey News. It’s because she has a song “I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory” on Asking For Flowers that makes reference to controversial tough-guy (and long-time protector of Wayne Gretzky) Marty McSorley. The lyrics make direct reference to their relationship

You’re The Great One
I’m Marty McSorley
You’re the Concorde
I’m economy
I make the dough
But you get the glory

That wasn’t why The Hockey News wanted to talk to her. It was the video. The video was a pickup hockey game where NHL legends Marty McSorley and Paul Coffey were among the players on one side, while Edwards and a bunch of beer league players were on the other. The video also features Dave Hodge, who was a longtime hockey announcer on CBC, doing a ridiculous post-game interview. As a side note, Hodge was fired from CBC in 1987 when he expressed his on-air disapproval of the network’s handling of a late-running tied game. He wanted them to continue coverage, but their policy was to cut away to other programming. Disappointed that he had to pass that along to viewers, he tossed his pencil in the air and said something like “This is the way it is with this network”. He was dismissed before the next game. He probably got a little bit of enjoyment out of getting to sing along with Edwards’ little jab at the CBC.

Heavy rotation on the CBC
Whatever the hell that really means

Anyway, this post wasn’t supposed to be about “I Make the Dough…”, but you should watch the video for it anyway. You’ll see her smooching Marty McSorley at the end.

As a last bit about her love of hockey, she struggled a bit as the singer of O Canada at the 2008 NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta. Remember when they tried hockey in Atlanta again? It seems like a million years ago, but it was only one year ago that they left.

As a little bonus, check out this video of Kathleen Edwards performing “A Soft Place to Land” live in the CBC studios. No Justin Vernon there, but there are two things that make it really great. First, that’s the terrific Hannah Georgas standing in for Vernon. Second, Edwards plays violin much more in this live version than she does on the album version. It’s a song that was written for piano, but I like it quite a lot with the violin.

Buy Voyageur from the amazon shop here.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

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