Kathleen Edwards bared her soul at the Kessler Theater on Wednesday night

Vulnerability has its limits. Musicians, especially those adept at digging up the stories of their own lives, can tire of cutting off another infinitesimally small piece of themselves and sharing it with open hands and hearts with audiences that may or may not accept it . Sparing nothing, whether it be happiness or agony, some of the world’s most artistic souls can sacrifice almost anything.

Admittedly, all of that reads a bit into the words of Kathleen Edwards as she took to the stage in Dallas for the first time in 11 years on Wednesday night, between the third and fourth songs of her 70-minute set at the Kessler Theater. (The performance was originally scheduled for late May but was postponed due to an in-tour COVID-19 diagnosis.)

“I haven’t been to Texas in a long time because I gave up the music business completely,” Edwards said. “It’s a hard life; You really live in a hard headspace.”

Edwards’ catalogue, dating back to her debut in 2002, mistakeShe’s unabashedly built on calling it what she sees – her lyrics leave no one, least of all herself, off the hook. When juxtaposed with stirring country, folk, pop and rock tunes, these often stimulating insights, delivered sparingly, can drown out steel wool sensibilities.

In other words, Edwards can break your heart even if you smile.

Their return, both in the form of their 2020 LP total freedom and in an intimate Dallas venue, was very welcome, an opportunity to once again bask in the gifts of the 43-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter. (That Edwards was greeted by such a lackluster turnout speaks less for Dallas than for her talents; the Kessler Theater was perhaps half full on Wednesday.)

Backed by guitarist Will Harrison, Edwards made the most of her short time on stage, kicking off the ringing, poignant “Options Open” and touching on all of their previous albums.

Edwards partially credits Arlington’s Maren Morris with reconnecting her with the joy of writing and performing. Morris approached Edwards as the former was preparing her second album, Girl.

“When I was in Nashville, I realized I was in my natural habitat,” Edwards said Wednesday.

When Edwards, her cut-glass contralto, as robust and dynamic as ever, dueled Harrison on Wednesday, it was obvious she was lost in climactic call-and-response (the climax of “Sure as Shit” was a climax , as does the stomping finale of “Back to Me”) and that she’s regained a bit of the joy once lost.

Your anecdotes are full of life. A lengthy interlude about her “stoned dog” and his post-surgery misadventures provided the perfect setting for the heartbreaking “Dogs and Alcohol,” while she continued to ground an already captivating tune ahead of “Sure as Shit.”

Just a dozen songs later, Edwards and Harrison bowed – a well-deserved standing ovation brought a huge grin to Edward’s face – and ducked off the stage as the house lights came on. It was the kind of performance that felt like five minutes had passed despite the amount of emotion, passion and skill on display.

But it wasn’t hard to see why Edwards only gave as much as she thought she could. No artist should feel compelled to metaphorically open their veins night after night at the immense personal and psychological cost of doing so. Vulnerability has value, yes, but so does power in restraint.

Kathleen Edwards has returned to what she’s been missing, and if being close to her undeniable talents is on her terms, then so be it.

John Paul White – who is most remembered for his time in The Civil Wars – was an outstanding opening act, performing solo for an hour, drawing freely from his own works and the works of others. Armed with an acoustic guitar and a deadpan sense of humor (“I’m glad to see someone other than my family,” he burst out. “It’s okay — they’re not here; I can tell.”) and a plaintive one Tenor, delicate and sweet, White held the audience in the palm of his hand throughout his time on stage.

Between White and Edwards, Wednesday was a reminder of how more than any other venue in town, the Kessler Theater is built for nights – and artists – like this. White’s fluency with covers was impressive: he added a bit of the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Gray” to the end of “The Long Way Home”, delivered Rufus Wainwright’s “Vibrate” with aplomb (“The only person more drama than I am,” White joked at the end) and capped his set with Electric Light Orchestra’s “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”.

In between, his chiaroscuro country and folk songs — “The Hurting Kind,” “The Once and Future Queen,” and of course, “Barton Hollow” — hung in the air, squeezing immense joy out of pain and confusion. It was the sound of a man, as White put it, finding solace in his art: “I don’t know what I would do if it wasn’t about music. I’m the guy who bottles things up.”

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