A few months ago, No Doubt diva Gwen Stefani made her solo debut with a wildly narcissistic ditty entitled "What You Waiting For?" On her new sophomore album, Back To Me, Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards offers a track with the nearly identical title, "What Are You Waiting For?"
Stefani's song is an admiring look in the mirror, with Gwen assuring herself that she's a "super hot female" with a million-dollar contract and a world clamoring for her "hot track." By contrast, Edwards' song spins a cryptic tale of regret, as an embittered old lover returns to town: "An hour passes you don't even blink/I'm writing you off and you still can't speak." Guess which song was a hit?
Edwards is incapable of artificiality, and that's both her greatest asset and a primary reason her debut album, Failer, only sold 20,000 copies. The modest lives she depicts - and the modesty with which she depicts them - don't come strutting out of radio speakers in high heels and Harajaku garb. She writes of dislocation ("Copied Keys," "Somewhere Else") and life's ephemeral nature ("Pink Emerson Radio," "Away"), and even her triumphs are incremental.
Edwards cites Tom Petty as a major influence, and it's the sedate, latter-day Petty we hear on mid-tempo janglers such as "Summerlong" and "Old Time Sake." Individually, Edwards' songs - and the worn fragility of her voice - rarely fail to connect, but a lack of variation in tempo and texture makes Back To Me a duller listening experience than it needs to be. When she speeds things up for the frisky title song, the result is a big relief. Edwards is a major-league songwriter and singer, but she's just beginning to suggest her potential as a record maker.