South by Southwest 2005: Kathleen Edwards at Carribean Lights in Austin

Kathleen Edwards is a name mentioned in seemingly every known music magazine in recent months, either anticipating or praising her March release, “Back To Me.”

The specter of hype around a CD release has a habit of sending the hip and connected scurrying for the exits if hyped promises prove hollow. But “Back To Me” stands up to the scrutiny, evidenced by the long lines of badged SXSW-types and non-badged locals outside Carribean Lights as Edwards’ set began Thursday night (3/17).

Channeling some well-worn Tom Petty grooves (with the help of Heartbreaker Benmont Tench in the studio), Edwards has officially shrugged off any notion that she’s just an acoustic-strumming Canadian folkie. On CD and on stage, Edwards has taken the mantle of Americana rocker and run with it. After all, what folkie would strap on an electric guitar and fall to her knees facing her amp, head-banging to the band’s backbeat?

Most of Thursday night’s set situated itself comfortably in a mid-tempo rocker range. Where the set did veer into more traditional folk or country territory, Edwards and band paced things right back up soon enough.

Yet song tempo isn’t the whole story by far. Edwards is a skilled songwriter with a cinematic take on setting her lyrical stages. That the songs work so well as toe-tappers are a plus, but she’s a gifted storyteller at any pace.

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