Kathleen Edwards was one of the highlights of this year’s South By Southwest Festival in Austin. Surely, I thought, she couldn’t sound as good on a dull Wednesday night in a dingy London basement. But she could and she did.
The buzz created by her debut, Failer, attracted some top London record company bosses to her first ever UK date. Among those were alt. country specialists Loose?although if they have designs on her, they must have been dismayed by the competition, which included Warner’s chief, John Reed.
And he surely could not have failed to be impressed. At 24, the Canadian-born Edwards has an easy stage presence that commands total attention. Like several other female alt. country singers, including Lucinda Williams and Tift Merritt, she’s tiny?no more than five-foot-five in her cowboy boots. But her talent is outsized.
She played all 10 songs from Failer, a superb album of potently melodic, country-tinged songs that earned a four-star review in Uncut recently. But here, backed by a band whose intentions were obvious from guitarist Colin Cripps’ MC5T-shirt, she rocked far harder than anything on the record as “One More Song The Radio Won’t Like” and “Maria” from the album were given tough-edged, roadhouse outings infused with the sort of ragged glory we associate with Crazy Horse.
The band took a break while she played a brief acoustic interlude, sounding like a female Neil Young on “Independent Thief”, a mighty fine song (not on Failer) about a bar “where they water the drinks down and the band plays too loud”. Then she followed with a stunning version of Young’s “Unknown Legend” from Harvest Moon before changing course again to evoke the spirit of Loudon Wainwright on the wry “Shinny”.
The band returned for “12 Bellevue” (featured on this month’s Uncut CD) and an improbable alt. country version of AC/DC’s “Moneytalks”, dedicated to “George W”, before they finished with the jangling “Six O’Clock News”, arguably the best song on Failer.
Edwards returned alone for the encore to play “Sweet Little Duck”, the lonesome closer to her album, then was rejoined by Cripps to play Black Sabbath’s “Changes” as a haunting guitar duet. She’ll be snapped up by a major before the year’s end?unless she prefers the independent route?for Edwards is one of the most gifted and compelling new talents around.