Country singer Kathleen Edwards' third CD is a breath of fresh air
There's an intimacy and familiarity to Kathleen Edwards' music that borders on unnerving. It's as though the singer/songwriter is reaching deep into your own memory and mining it for inspiration.
Because most modern artists aren't encouraged to do much more than offer an appealing personality and deliver mediocre mush to a public that doesn't seem to know the difference between quality and quantity, Edwards is a dying breed: an artist of genuine talent with something to say that very few people seem to know anything about. There's a reason those who listen to music for a living latch onto musicians like Edwards -- she's a breath of fresh air, beauty and brains wrapped up in songs that stick long past that initial listen.
Asking for Flowers, Edwards' third full-length album, builds on the considerable strengths of her initial records (Failer,Back to Me), both of which groaned beneath the weight of countless critical accolades. Introducing a dose of righteous partisan fury to her reliably evocative sketches gives Flowers a distinct energy that sets it apart from her back catalog; Oil Man's War is the only nakedly political track but Edwards, always a student of lyrical minimalism, makes her point gracefully and forcefully without becoming didactic.
Elsewhere, Flowers blossoms beautifully on the rollicking lead single The Cheapest Key; the pensive title track; I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory; and the genuinely shattering Scared at Night. Balanced between up-tempo barroom stompers and melancholy ballads, Edwards - who produced the disc with veteran Jim Scott (Barenaked Ladies, Sting) - leans on cliches (weary lovers, well-worn lives slipping away behind a bar, the stark reality of difficult choices) but manages to transcend the familiar with her skill and sensitivity.
That ability is reinforced elsewhere. In concert, Edwards cuts a diminutive but dominating figure - her January concert at Dallas' Bend Studio, to an audience of fewer than 100, was an astonishing display of instrumental virtuosity, deft word play and laid-back charm.
As a whole, Flowers underscores the tough-tender dichotomy that's been the core of her songwriting from the beginning; she doesn't readily let her defenses down, often concealing a soul easily bruised. It makes for compelling, emotionally charged albums, and Asking for Flowers is no different.
Download this: The Cheapest Key
Rating: 5 out of 5