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Music Reviews

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Kathleen Edwards
Asking For Flowers

Rating: 7.8/10 ?

March 14, 2008
These days artists who don't freely fly a flag of one stripe or another are often pigeonholed into a particular genre, and there often accepting their lot set about mining it for all it's worth. As far as (women) singer-songwriters go, most end up in the acoustic guitar-toting, post James Taylor "sensitive" category, only to be forgotten when their broken hearts heal; in happiness, their seemingly endless well of melody dries up.

From the start, molding herself after roots rock pioneer Lucinda Williams, Kathleen Edwards refused such a fate. Edwards' brash vocals, sincere and aggressive, immediately set her apart from those contemporaries with their hearts set on soundtracking a Bed Bath & Beyond marketing campaign. Her signature guitar sound is both classic in approach and delivery, yet through her sophomore release, Back to Me, Edwards seemed like she struggled to truly break out of the slowly forming rut (a la Lucinda) from whence she came.

Fast-forward three years, and Kathleen Edwards has emerged with a new kitbag. To explain the delay in following up Back to Me, suffice it to say that Edwards had some things to do after a long run on the road (gardening, jogging, working at a winery), and they often took her away from music. The most important task however, was Edwards' determination to learn how to play the piano. And she's not shy about accomplishing it either. Asking For Flowers' leadoff track, "Buffalo," demonstrates her budding, albeit somewhat rudimentary, skill. The track builds with production reminiscent of Neko Case's recent country noir, and even has hints of the highlights of Cat Power's The Greatest.

With each spin of Asking For Flowers, new layers of melodic and lyrical meaning come to the fore. This depth is afforded by Edwards having taken the initiative to find producer Jim Scott (see Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac), whose work behind the knobs has imbued a slightly ambient base to the album's already strong songcraft. The rest of the band, highlighted by husband Colin Cripps on guitar and the ubiquitous pedal-steel whiz Greg Leisz, fleshes out the sound perfectly.

Though she can count her own guitar and piano playing in her arsenal of skills, it is Edwards' vocals that give the most weight to Asking For Flowers. While she's stayed clear of any outright punkish delivery, Edwards can be compared to an early solo Shannon Wright, just after she left Crowsdell, and her acoustic numbers showcase a similarly undeniable sense of subtle angst and regret. In the album's latter half, "Sure As Shit" demonstrates Edwards' comfort on the solo guitar and vocal, while the penultimate tune, "Scared At Night," opens with a descending bassline similar to the oft-covered Jackson Browne cut "These Days." While she's employed a similar harmonic, her vocal melody is both unique and solid, and it seems that after three albums, Edwards has made peace with her sensitive side.

Besides her new experiments, Edwards turns back to her more familiar territory with a handful of bluesy rockers, yet here even these seem altered. For the first time, Edwards seems much more comfortable in her own skin, and although each track shares a similar theme, the songwriter's musical palette and ideas for arrangement feel more fleshed out than ever before. She balances blunt lines like "B is for bullshit and you fed me some," with the comparatively crafted sentiments of "Don't write me off/ Here comes my softer side/ And there it goes/ Cuz I've been on the road too long to sympathize/ With what you think you're owed." Musically speaking, Edwards balances out aggression and subtlety so well on Asking For Flowers that the vocals, what should be the album's centerpiece, risk getting swept under the carpet. But that would be a mistake.

Although she's passed the worried waters of a sophomore slump and sailed gracefully into her third album, the critically acclaimed Edwards may in truth only now be entering her creative storm. Asking For Flowers is the work of a musician freshly settled in to the rhythm of her creative seas, and from here it is the horizon where her true potential shines.

Reviewed by Jeff McMahon
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Jeff McMahon



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