Translated literally as "traveler," the French word Voyageur refers to the French Canadians that facilitated the fur trade in the 18th and early 19th centuries in Canada and the upper Midwest. It also makes for an apt analogical title for the fourth LP from Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards.
Recorded between August of 2010 and May of last year, in the wake of her divorce after five years of marriage to Colin Cripps — her long-time guitarist and band leader as well as the producer for her 2005 album Back to Me — Voyageur chronicles a love affair from the very beginning to the end. More notably, this record is produced with the help of her new love — Justin Vernon, better known as Bon Iver. In addition to production, Justin also contributed instrumentation and backing vocals, which stand out particularly in the fifth track, the agonizing break up narrative "House Full of Empty Rooms," as their voices intertwine the vulnerable lyrics into robust harmonies over minimal piano.
Their collaboration also led to the appearance of several guests on the album. The usual suspects connected to Vernon — including members of Bon Iver, Megafaun and Peter Wolf Crier — appear on the album. There are some surprises, too, like Norah Jones, who sings backing vocals on the last track, "For the Record," and John Roderick, known for fronting The Long Winters, who even co-wrote two of the songs, "A Soft Place to Land" and "Pink Champagne." Co-writing had previously been an intensely private process for Edwards, who saw it as a challenge and approached it with an open mind.
And through the relationship and career metamorphoses, you can sense that Edwards has been on a voyage. You hear reflection in her lyrics, and you hear transformation in her emotive voice. From an alt-country aesthetic on her early records to shimmery indie-pop on her latest, this Voyageur has traveled a long way.