Credit: Remi Theriault/Kathleen Edwards
by Josh Hurst Music Rooted & Restless

Kathleen Edwards | Total Freedom

November 23, 2020

Edwards’ Total Freedom is a subtle, assured submission that brings a sense of calm and acceptance to her catalog of raw, unrestrained works.

“Glenfern,” the opening song on Kathleen Edwards’ Total Freedom, chronicles a relationship that ended in collapse — though it might take you a couple of listens to realize it. Under its amiable gait, the song exposes a few raw nerves, but what stands out the most is the air of gratitude it exudes: A chapter of her life has closed, but Edwards cheerfully admits that she’ll “always be thankful for it.” Such serenity emanates from the album, her first following eight years of self-imposed hiatus. That’s not to say the album is absent tension; you only have to wait until the second song rolls around for Edwards to howl against a controlling lover (“Am I not the one you love? You’re so hard on everyone”).

But compared with Edwards’ earlier albums — sharply written, deftly produced country-rock platters that veered easily into raucous indignation, hurt, and rage — Total Freedom is marked by its measured tone and its sense of ease. The ballads move with unhurried grace, while the rockers downplay aggression in favor of self-assured swing; just listen to “Options Open,” which sounds as spry and effortless as anything Edwards has ever recorded. The easeful manner of these songs can almost obscure the darkness that lurks at their corners. “Who Rescued Who” is a warm ode to canine companionship, but note that it’s written as an elegy; and while “Birds on a Feeder” paints a picture of unencumbered, domestic bliss, the final verse hints that Edwards’ “total freedom” comes hand-in-hand with loneliness and isolation. Such emotional nuances allow these songs to sink their hooks in deep, even as the warmth of their delivery helps them go down smoothly on only a first listen. Total Freedom testifies to a singer/songwriter who’s been away too long but returns without missing a step; if it’s not the most immediately rousing of her albums, it may just yet offer the most long-term rewards.

Published as part of Rooted & Restless | Q3 2020 Issue.