On her fourth LP, singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards gets an assist from her new beau, Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon, who adds lush arrangements to her tales of heartbreak and anguish, inching her development forward even if the results are, ultimately, uneven. At its best, the fuller production adds heft to Edwards’ usually sparse folk. Trembling guitars and a haunting choir provide moody accompaniment to the forlorn woe of “Pink Champagne.” Distorted violin and marching snare drum bring a sense of roiling urgency to Edwards’ folk-pop ballad formula on “A Soft Place To Land,” co-written with The Long Winters’ John Roderick. And staccato keyboards and glimmering synths push “Change The Sheets” into rollicking pop territory, a shift in dynamics that still manages to retain the song’s emotional core.
But the approach doesn’t always work to her advantage. “House Full Of Empty Rooms” would have been better served by the stripped-down approach, letting Edwards’ haunting vocals carry the emotional load. Instead, the song nearly collapses under the weight of layers of superfluous guitar, keys, and percussion. And “Mint” sounds like Edwards doing a generic Sheryl Crow impression, right down to the “sha-la-la” chorus. Still, Edwards’ willingness to tinker with a formula that wasn’t broken, to stretch her legs stylistically and avoid complacency, is admirable. The key, though, is finding balance within this sonic shuffle, something Edwards hasn’t done quite yet.