Edgeland (Yep Roc)
The edgeland described by Kim Richey is not a dangerous area up upheaval and plunging craters for the unwary. Nor is it a place where adventure moves on its own recognisance or emotions swing wildly. You certainly won’t find in it the excesses of youth yet to fully experience or the reminiscences of those who figure their experiences are done, dusted and packed away in the spare room.
Across these 12 songs, across music which traverses country, pop, and something a little away from both, this edgeland exists as a far trickier proposition: life being led right now by people who are still busy clocking up experiences and reminiscences; decisions being made with the knowledge that wisdom doesn’t guarantee anything; pleasures being had not because it might never happen again but because they deserve to be; pain being felt because it’s not like there really is an alternative is there?
You may also recognise the territory where no matter how much knowledge you bring, you can’t make someone else see the obvious pitfall ahead: “You saw a light, I saw a freight train coming/I tried to tell you he was no damn good,” Richey sings in the tense interior rock song, ala Petty, Pin A Rose. “You heard bells, I heard the hammer falling/He ran you down like I said he would.”
Yeah, Edgeland is proper adulthood. The kind of place where in The Get Together (in a harmony duo/pedal and picked guitar arrangement, with co-writer/guitarist Mando Saenz) Richey offers “Thought we’d have a little get together/I hear tell you’re going away/If I’d heard it from you, it would have been better/But it didn’t work out that way”. And you can hear both wistfulness and warmth, understanding and hurt.
In the hard acoustic strums crossed with west coast jingle jangle of Can’t Let You Go however, such sang froid isn’t so easily maintained. It’s been months since she watched someone walk away but now as the chill of “November cuts through my clothes”, the leave may have turned but she hasn’t. Can’t. Or maybe won’t.
Completing this mid-album sequential set in a way, though possibly in reverse, I Tried makes the case that while “promises and good intentions” were lost along the way it wasn’t out of competing bad intentions. Almost jaunty in tempo even as the story refuses to artificially bounce, the song opens into a chorus of simplicity and repetition, takes its middle eight into a slight gear change as strings arrive for a sobering interlude, but returns to the acceptance of fate’s hand in Richey’s weary vocal playout.
It’s not like things haven’t been moving beforehand though. The character who may or may not be Richey herself in Chase Wild Horses – a brisk country mover with a blush of bazouki and a coating of Dusty-style early ‘70s pop – may be working to convince herself as much as us that while “back in the day I used to run my share of wild/back when the nights went forever” these days she’s wised up. “I still hear them knocking at my door,” she sings, but “I don’t chase wild horses any more”.
Whatever the outcomes, the subtext to many of these songs is the inability – from circumstance, lifestyle and maybe need rather than necessarily inclination – to lodge in one place and therefore in one partnership.
That may be the lot of the travelling musician: the kind who writes something called Leaving Song (“This ain’t no leaving song/You ain’t done nothing wrong”) and gives it a banjo and mandolin upswing to match the hustling tempo. Or finds herself, in The Red Line seeing a discarded newspaper and moving on quickly from any regrets to wondering if she might “see if someone’s into something, something I could use”.
Or it may be disposition after all. The nature of someone for whom a train metaphor isn’t, deep down, a metaphor; who can let a moment pass like the smoke blowing away because that’s the way shit goes. “I meant to buy a ticket, I meant to make the call/Guess I’ll smoke another cigarette and lean against the wall/And watch the world go away.”
Still, as simply powerful, sad and beautiful as Your Dear John (written with Jenny Queen) is, with its plainspoken and yet poetic core – “let me down easy, I’ve been on this run too long” - Edgeland doesn’t give up on the point of the life still being led. Instead it ends on the effortlessly charming, low-key bon bon of Whistle On Occasion (harmonium, guitar and tinny Casio) where, with a duetting Chuck Prophet (“everybody needs somebody, yes they do … like I need you”), Richey looks up and out, not down and in.
“Got my hands in my pockets and my feet on the ground/I might whistle on occasion when there’s no one else around.”