Midway through Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards' show Tuesday night at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, she welcomed a familiar face onstage to the delight of the hundreds in attendance.
It wasn't necessarily a surprise: A few folks had already spotted Bon Iver's Justin Vernon in his hooded yellow sweatshirt, commingling in the audience with old friends from his Raleigh days, and it's no secret that Vernon produced Edwards' outstanding new album Voyageur. Devoted fans might also have noticed that videos of the two performing a few songs together at her Sunday night performance in Atlanta had turned up on YouTube in the past couple of days.
What had already been a terrific performance by Edwards was kicked up a notch when Vernon joined in on guitar for the exquisite ballad "Wapusk," released last Fall as a single. Edwards explained it was the first song she and Vernon recorded together, an auspicious collaboration that eventually led to much greater connections both professionally and personally.
Vernon stuck around for another number before leaving Edwards in the hands of her very capable bandmates. Lead guitarist Gord Tough's contributions were muscular but tasteful, and opening act Hannah Georgas added gorgeous harmonies to many songs.
Although Voyageur debuted at No. 39 on the Billboard album charts last week, Edwards' fans responded most enthusiastically to older favorites such as "Six O'Clock News" (from 2002's Failer) and "In State" (from 2005's Back To Me). Near the end of the set, she thanked the crowd for their willingness to also hear the new material, most of which was delivered with bounds of confidence and emotion, particularly the fast-galloping opener "Empty Threat" and the brooding mid-set heartbreaker "Pink Champagne."
Vernon reappeared during the encore to join Edwards on "Mercury," another song from Failer that seems to have played a minor role in bringing the two together. (In a phone interview two weeks ago, Edwards noted that she'd heard Bon Iver had covered "Mercury" onstage before the two singers had met; indeed, YouTube turns up a rendition of the song by Vernon and his band at the Sasquatch Festival near Seattle in May 2009.) They closed with "For The Record," a seven-minute coda to a past relationship which concludes the new album and was stretched out even longer onstage. "I only wanted to sing songs," Edwards attested in the chorus; on this night, that was more than enough, with a little help from her friends.