Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Ottawa Jazz Festival review: Kathleen Edwards delivered a great show

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Kathleen Edwards had what she called a “Springsteen moment” during a scorching show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Tuesday, her first headlining appearance at a hometown festival since returning to the music industry full time two years ago.

The rock-star feeling came over her mid-set, after a couple of songs with jazzfest boss Petr Cancura sitting in as an impromptu guest on stage, his sultry saxophone wail boosting the solid beat of her band in a manner similar to Clarence Clemons, the late sax legend of Springsteen’s E-Street Band. 

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Cancura’s presence also reminded her of her roots in Ottawa, Edwards said, because he wrote the horn arrangements for her breakthrough album, Failer, when she recorded at Dave Draves’ Little Bullhorn studio more than 20 years ago, a memory that lent a full-circle significance to the occasion. 

These days, Edwards (and her husband, Chelsea-based real estate developer Sean McAdam) divide their time between homes in St. Petersburg, Florida and the West Quebec village of Chelsea. She has a steady stream of U.S. tour dates, and a U.K. excursion planned for September, along with a few dates in Europe. 

It’s been two years since the Merivale High School grad last played Ottawa, a show that saw her open for country star Zach Bryan at CityFolk in front of a contingent of his youthful followers. This time, she was in front of a couple of thousand friendly faces, including family members, best friends and her own legion of fans. She joked about the jazzfest billing, describing her polished mix of country, rock and folk as a form of “jazz interpretation.”  

Well, she may be the least jazzy headliner of this year’s crop, but there was no faulting her performance. Edwards was at the top of her game with her passionate songs, a sure hand on guitar and a superb band, made up of Ottawa drummer Peter Von Althen, bassist John Dinsmore, pedal-steel master Aaron Goldstein and wily guitarist Gord Tough. 

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Her distinctive voice sounded better than ever, radiating less grit and more vulnerability as she threw herself into a set that ranged from the heart-breaking tenderness of Soft Place to Land and Asking for Flowers to the raging jams that fuelled songs like Somewhere Else and the evocative Goodbye, California, which also found Edwards on violin, the instrument she studied as a child. 

The oft-outspoken 45-year-old also displayed a new level of professionalism in her stage presence, too, no longer compelled to fill every silence between songs with chatter, although she punctuated her tales with the f-bomb a few times, and vowed to never stop cursing, to the delight of the crowd. 

One nice addition to her setlist was a haunting cover of Tom Petty’s Crawling Back to You that she said will be included on a new album of cover songs expected for release this summer. 

Also coming up is a free show at Perth’s Stewart Park music festival, where Edwards tops a bill that includes Skydiggers, David Francey and Lynn Miles on July 20. 

Before Edwards’ set, Inuit singer Elisapie had her own stack of cover songs to present, embracing classic-rock hits such as Heart of Glass, Time After Time and The Unforgiven by singing them in Inuktitut, as heard on her latest album. The effect was sublime and not at all clunky, the brittle language soaring on the familiar melodic phrases.

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Accompanied by a three-piece band and wearing a stunning gold outfit with floor-length sleeve fringes that looked like wings, Elisapie was a gracious and unapologetic diva who shone in the spotlight. Surprisingly, she said her album, also titled Inuktitut, was her most personal yet, even though she “stole some songs from white people” and translated them. 

The range of sentiment expressed in the songs, from joy to darkness and back, provide “a safe place to feel all the emotions,” she explained. They also made for a powerful opening to another fantastic night of music at Confederation Park, unmarred by a drizzle or two from the cloud-covered skies. 

The jazz festival continues until June 30, with fusion guitarist Al Dimeola on the main stage Wednesday, the irresistible Lake Street Dive on Thursday, crooning sensation Laufey on Friday jazz-pop chanteuse Norah Jones on Saturday and torchy jazz songstress Veronica Swift on Sunday.

Go to for complete details on the schedule and tickets.

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