Kathleen Edwards, “Total Freedom” (Dualtone)
Kathleen Edwards’ first studio album since 2012, “Total Freedom,” is the sound of an artist with a second wind.
Burned out after releasing four albums in a decade, the Canadian singer-songwriter set aside her music career in 2014 and opened a cafe called Quitters in her hometown of Ottawa. This slow-brewed album marks her return.
Compared to earlier work like Edwards’ raw 2003 debut “Failer,” the new 10-track set is a more polished package from a more contented musician.
It opens strongly with “Glenfern,” a wistful tribute to the past and her ex-husband. Unsentimental honesty and vivid word pictures are Edwards’ songwriting strength — “We had a tour bus with a bed in the back/We bought a rock ‘n’ roll dream, it was total crap” — and the result will resonate with anyone who knows the sour-sweet pull of looking back.
Edwards is an energetic guitarist and singer whose urgent vocals can cut to the heart or flash with sarcasm. “Love is blind/Whoever bought that line must be a real sucker,” she sings on “Fool’s Ride.”
Those qualities are somewhat muted by the slickly layered production by Edwards, longtime collaborator Jim Bryson and Nashville producer Ian Fitchuk, who won two Grammys for his work on Kacey Musgraves’ critically acclaimed “Golden Hour” album.
A tight rhythm section propels songs about soured relationships (“Hard on Everyone,” “Fool’s Ride”), the relief of shedding obligations (“Birds on a Feeder”) and the pleasure of renewing a childhood friendship (the singalong-catchy “Simple Math”).
There is melancholy, too, as Edwards mourns a beloved dog on “Who Rescued Who” and remembers a friend gone too soon on “Ashes to Ashes” — a more stripped down song built around gentle acoustic guitar and banjo.
But there is also acceptance that things change on “Take it With You When You Go,” which closes the album on a gently elegiac note.
Fans of the earlier Edwards might wish for a few more rough edges, but “Total Freedom” is the work of a relaxed and confident artist. Welcome back.