Monday, October 12, 2009

Top 25 Albums of the 2000s, #20 - "Back to Me," Kathleen Edwards

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about compiling this list has been the opportunity to go back and refresh my memory about albums that had fallen out of the regular rotation. What I’ve come to learn is that my lasting impression of an album is often based on the strength of just a handful of songs. What I’ve tried to do – and believe me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds – is to avoid “overrating” an album just because it happens to have three or four awesome songs on it.

[As an aside, some brief comments on the concept of “overrated.” It’s a loaded term and a surefire argument starter, because when someone hears someone else referring to their favorite album as “overrated,” they usually interpret that as meaning “that album sucks.” That’s not what I mean when I use the term. For example, I think the most overrated album in rock history is Sgt. Pepper. That doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad album; I don’t. It’s a very good album with a handful of classic cuts. But every critics poll in memory has chosen it as the greatest album of the rock era, and I think that’s silly, because to my ears it’s only the fourth or fifth best Beatles album. Hence, “overrated.”]

You’re probably wondering by now what any of this has to do with Kathleen Edwards, but I told the story to illustrate how difficult it was deciding which of her albums would make this list. As recently as last year I wrote that I thought Asking for Flowers was her best album, but after taking the time to listen to both back-to-back I’ve reached the conclusion that, based on its consistency, Back to Me gets the nod. In the end it’s somewhat of a pointless debate, because Asking for Flowers would probably rank somewhere between 26-35, if I took the time to extend the list a bit.

The first time I heard Back to Me was on a listening station at a Borders in Santa Cruz, thinking that for once I was going to be able to leave the store without buying something (we were only there to kill a little time before going to a movie). But it didn’t quite work out that way. I put on the first song, “In State,” and thought to myself, “Hmm…this is pretty good.” Fast-forwarding on to the second song, “Back to Me,” I thought, “wow…this is really good.” And, so on from there. If I had to describe her music, I’d peg it as country rock with a bit of pop and folk thrown in, although that hardly does it justice. Think of Rosanne Cash circa 1985 (or maybe even Patty Griffin, on some tunes), and you get the idea. On songs like “Pink Emerson Radio” and “Away,” the accompaniment is spare and acoustic. Songs like “Summerlong” and “Copied Keys” have a great pop sheen, while songs like the aforementioned “In State” and “Back to Me” are flat-out rockers.

What they all have in common is a finely realized sense of detail, perhaps epitomized by the lyrics to “Pink Emerson Radio”:

Painted over the walls
the saddest color of blue
posters covered in glass
favorite curbside grab
red Valentine's card
stuck on the mirror to keep
record player made of tubes
spinning Tommy by The Who

There's no time to waste
There's no time to wait

Keys on the hook by the door
for the truck sold years ago
standing guitars in the case
filling up closet space
vintage 40's wardrobe pink Emerson radio

old lace dress I bought in the store
motorcycle boots on the floor

From start to finish, Back to Me is a winner. #20 in my list of the Top 25 albums of the decade.

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