Asking for Flowers

It’s a rare writer who is able to convey the swirling complexities of human emotions in direct and uncluttered language. It’s an even greater challenge to express the hopes, dreams and fears of everyday, ordinary people who struggle with work, relationships and a sense of self worth and instill those simple people with dignity. Kathleen Edwards proves herself to be the voice of the inarticulate masses and she does so with wit, charm, and vernacular alacrity. She’s also becoming one of the top stars of the Americana charts.

With the release of her first album Edwards drew comparisons to Lucinda Williams and that’s not bad company. Like Williams, Edwards uses an economy of words to paint loving portraits of struggling couples and stark landscapes. She also rivals Lucinda with her sweet, sad ballads, her driving country rockers and she’s not afraid to express herself with a few well chosen curse words. Edwards’ voice isn’t a beautiful tool but it is expressive in its plaintive honesty.

Edward’s opens her third release - and her best yet - with “Buffalo” a song that sets the stage for the rest of the album. It begins quietly but unfolds to reveal layered production as Edwards takes us across the border and into her traveling existence. But before you have the time to settle in and put your feet up Edwards is rocking you with the rollicking “Cheapest Key.” Full of nasty wit and clever word play, Edwards puts a cad in his place as she sings “don’t get me wrong, here comes my softer side, and there it goes.” But that song is the exception to the rule on this record. This collection of songs features more ballad-like material and a maturity that takes Edwards’ material to a higher level. This is heartbreaking stuff that ranks with the best alt country songs of the past decade. The title track is a poignant portrait of an unappreciated wife who sings “asking for flowers is like asking you to be nice.” Ouch. And yet there’s no recrimination; it’s a simple statement of disillusion and resignation.

Edward touches lightly on the political, as it affects the personal on “Oh Canada” (not the national anthem) a sad story of national racism and inequality. “Oil Man’s War” features a young couple who romanticize stealing across the border in order to avoid the current war, only to recognize that their behavior is nostalgic at best due to the lack of a draft. One of my favorite songs on this release is a romantic acoustic number called “Sure As Shit.” The title is perfect as it describes the protagonist, a woman who admits that she cusses because it’s the only sure way she has to express her deepest emotions. “Choosing my words carefully has never been my strength,” she begins. It’s a sad and funny snapshot of a woman who doesn’t often have her story told in any form of storytelling. I’ll bet you’ll recognize her in someone you know and therein lays the beauty of Kathleen Edwards’ writing. She’s honest, simple and direct as she writes in the language of her characters.

Edwards produces Asking For Flowers with Jim Scott who has also worked with Tom Petty and Whiskeytown. Featured among the stellar band is Edwards’ husband, Colin Crisp, on guitar. I expect that Kathleen Edwards will win many accolades for this album and I hope more people come to recognize the growing talent of one of Canada’s most exciting singer/songwriters.

WYEP celebrates the very best of 2008 during December by revisiting albums from our top 10 of the year. Pick up your copy of Kathleen Edwards'Asking For Flowers by going to wyep.org/store.

Rosemary Welsch, WYEP Afternoon Mix host