It wasn't just self-deprecation that prompted Kathleen Edwards to title her first album Failer. Sure, it bent the English language, but the word said all that needed saying about the album's cast of characters, from the tragic lovers of "Six O'Clock News" to the frustrated protagonist of the self-explanatory "One More Song The Radio Won't Like." Failer, on the other hand, didn't live up to its name in one crucial respect: It succeeded tremendously in announcing the Ottawa-based Edwards as a country-leaning singer and songwriter already operating in top form. The new Back To Me both confirms that impression and returns to the emotional gray areas that Edwards has claimed as her own.
A sort-of sequel to "Six O'Clock News," "In State" finds Edwards playing the part of a woman who hates her criminal boyfriend enough to send him to jail. Or is that love? Those kinds of mixed signals crisscross the album. On the uptempo title track, Edwards purrs so seductively about her various potential methods of making a straying lover return that it raises the question of why he ever left in the first place. Then again, time has a way of straightening out mixed feelings, at least for some. "You say you like me in your memory," Edwards tells on old flame on "What Are You Waiting For?" before hitting the punchline: "You've got to be fucking kidding me."
Edwards has a suggestively melancholy voice, a gift for well-turned phrases, and an uncanny knack for making uptempo tracks like "In State" sound as intimate and raw as her ballads. She may not write the sort of songs that radio likes, but, then again, she's not really trying. Nor should she. Edwards' songs have a lived-in quality and an emotional specificity that's tough to achieve, much less sustain. Capturing failure this beautifully is its own kind of success.