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“Six O’Clock News”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 23, 2012

Kathleen Edwards is a Canadian singer-songwriter who started out as part of the alt-country movement a few years ago.  I discovered her when one of the local Top Forty stations (98.7, I believe) briefly tried to expand their playlist by airing a weekly program that showcased “Americana” acts (by “briefly” I mean that I think it aired for all of two weeks).  One of the songs they played was from Edwards’ debut album, Failer.

“Six O’Clock News” is just a little slice of life–if your life happens to be an episode of Cops, that is.  Any song that begins “Copper on the corner and he loaded two rounds” isn’t going anyplace pleasant.  The characters in this song are what most of middle-class America would consider white trash.  But Edwards gives voice to the kind of person that is usually voiceless in this society.  Peter and his girlfriend are probably poor, uneducated, and unemployed.  There might even be abuse involved; Peter’s mother says “her baby is a failer, and she don’t want you callin'”; that does not sound healthy.  Peter has obviously lived up to his mother’s assessment and committed some sort of crime, but it’s never specified.  His girlfriend seems clueless, asking “Peter, sweet baby, where’d you get that gun?”  All she knows is that she loves him, and she can’t help him: “I can’t even get inside.”  She’s also pregnant, adding to the tragedy.  All she wants is for Peter “to do a little time and save my broken heart.”  But everyone knows from the beginning how this is going to turn out, with Peter lying dead on the avenue.

This song is heartbreaking.  Edwards’ voice is a plaintive wail.  In this particular song, she seems to echo the police sirens.  She is accompanied by fairly simple instrumentation.  There is nothing flashy on this song.  The emphasis is on Edwards and the story she’s telling.  When I bought the album, I found that the rest of the songs were pretty much the same; some were spare, acoustic numbers, while the rest featured a good, solid group playing.  Edwards was in her early 20s when she made this album, and I remember thinking that no one that young should ever be that sad.  Because “Six O’Clock News” is just the tip of the iceberg: nothing good happens to anybody here.  When the characters aren’t crying in despair, they’re spitting nails angry.  It really is a remarkable disc, albeit a slightly depressing one.

And even though I find it a bit depressing, I love this album.  It is cathartic and wonderfully written and beautifully played.  Edwards remains one of my favorite singer-songwriters today.  I don’t know how I feel about her newest album, produced by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver, who is critically acclaimed, but I’m ambivalent about).  It seems saddled with a dreamy, almost psychedelic production which dilutes the lyrical punch of the songs.  Edwards seems to be at her best when she carries the songs herself.  And with that voice, there isn’t much she can’t carry.

 

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