For the past few years, Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter and pianist, Kim Edgar, has been combining her solo career with membership of the celebrated German-based folk band Cara. Kim's eagerly-awaited third solo album, "Stories Untold", was issued recently to critical acclaim and she is currently on tour across Scotland to promote it. Featuring all the usual Kim Edgar hallmarks of eloquent and intelligent songcraft, graceful vocals, elegant piano and bold and imaginative song arrangements, the new album exceeds all expectations.
Having unfortunately missed Kim Edgar's successful album launch gig in August during the Edinburgh Fringe, I thankfully didn't have too long to wait until the tour brought her back to Edinburgh, this time to Leith Folk Club on 27th September. A Leith resident herself, Kim was very much at home in this intimate setting and she received a very warm and enthusiaistic reception from the capacity audience as she took her place at the piano.
Having previously described her music as 'poppy-folky', Kim Edgar's appreciation of the possibilities offered by the folk tradition has been widened through working with Cara and collaborating with her friend, fellow singer-songwriter Karine Polwart. Kim's growing ability to write convincingly in the Scots language was evident in her opening song, "Twa Magicians", a stirring, supernatural tale involving shape-shifting protagonists. Kim returned to the Scots language later in the gig with "Peerie Boy" (co-written with Karine Polwart), which describes a mother's heartbreak at the loss of her beloved, seafaring son ("…and now the hands of the sea have stolen my peerie boy frae me."). In "The Whole Rainbow", Kim delivered a quietly eloquent argument against gender stereotyping, couched in terms of soothing words of encouragement from an expectant mother to her unborn child ("Just now you're all potential, no-one can foretell what colours will define you as your universe unfolds…"). "Anchor In The Sky" used a North Star motif to offer a moving tribute to those who provide sorely-needed love and support to others in their times of need. The audience joined in enthusiastically in the choruses of the deceptively simple, yet uplifting "1, 2, 3, 4, 5".
Kim Edgar's valuable and rewarding work with the Vox Liminis project (which provides support and encouragement to Scottish prison inmates through facilitating singing and songwriting initiatives) was the inspiration for two particularly powerful and moving songs from the new album. Firstly, in "Things Crack, Then Shatter", Kim tugged at our heart-strings with her imagining of how it might feel to be in the position of a young boy who is experiencing inexplicable guilt and shame over his father's imprisonment for a violent crime. Then, in "The Seamstress", Kim sang from the perspective of a young female inmate imagining a better life for herself following her release from prison ("…she salvages and darns, this act of restoration is saving the seamstress and her yarn.").
Many of Kim Edgar's songs take the form of imaginative short stories or vignettes, full of striking and poetic imagery, which, like her strong melodies, touch the soul and linger in the mind. For example, in "Tightrope", Kim compared the sensation of vertigo to the inability to reveal a strong attraction to another, with the pitch and phrasing of her delicate vocals heightening the sense of hesitancy and vulnerability ("…I tread a tightrope when you're near me, teetering too high"). Adopting a much bolder approach, musically and vocally, "Withheld" was a companion piece to the previous song, although concerned more with the physical dimension of attraction ("Withheld, concealed, conflicted feelings that I'm scared to show, yet bear, and know.").
Kim Edgar's vocals soared on the sweeping and majestic "Red", an affectionate reflection on her mum's early life growing up in Bathgate. Notable for a warm and intimate vocal, "Well Worn" celebrated the 'comfy fit' of enduring and loving relationships and was dedicated to Kim's mum and dad, who were in the audience. Kim told us that she had been commissioned to write the gracefully lilting "Leaf For A Sail", which was inspired by a line from a John Glenday poem.
There is an 'edge' and occasional darkness in Kim Edgar's music which, together with her distinctive piano playing, has prompted comparison with Tori Amos. This darker side to Kim's work was exemplified by the heady swirl and underlying menace of "Scissors, Paper, Stone" and by the nightmarish fairy tale setting of the brooding and cathartic murder ballad "Blood, Ice And Ashes" (another song co-written with Karine Polwart). The slightly unsettling "House On The Hill" (co-written with Emma Pollock) was notable for stirring piano accompaniment, as Kim's vocals alternated deftly between the edgy flurries of words in the verses and the poignant and gentle half-spoken choruses.
An encore was inevitable after such a virtuoso performance and Kim Edgar finished on a high with the wistful "Heavy Skies", a heartfelt tribute to her Granny Edgar, which brought a lump to the throat of this reviewer.
Kim Edgar is an extemely gifted singer, songwriter and musician, who brings great warmth, charm, humour and quiet charisma to her live performance. She now has three outstanding solo albums to her name and it is to be hoped that the absorbing, inspiring and uplifting collection of songs on "Stories Untold" will further enhance her reputation as one of Scotland's brightest and most original musical talents and provide a springboard to even greater success and recognition in the future.
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