It isn’t often that an artist can release an album of “polished” material following 2 raw, edgier records (Failer in 2003, Back to Me in 2005) without diminishing the sound and falling victim to the industry sin of overproduction, but Kathleen Edwards has succeeded where others have failed before her. Asking for Flowers is an enhancement to the first 2 records rather than a detraction, and the end result is captivating.
The notable difference in the new album, aside from the significantly increased emphasis in piano, is in the emotion of the middle and uptempo tracks, previously reserved for slow, sparse, minor-keyed songs such as “Sweet Little Duck” or “Mercury”. Asking for Flowers opens with “Buffalo“, a piano-intro ballad that quickly swells into a mix of subtly abrasive guitars, melodic piano and strong, layered strings.
“The Cheapest Keys” is a straight up rocker. more than strong enough to carry the alphabetic progression of the lyrics that would likely be rendered silly somewhere else, and highlighted by Edwards’ cracked-pitch wailing of the chorus at the end.
Edwards’ writing has never been subjected to the limitations of the pop music/pop life romanticism of relationships, and the songs on Asking for Flowers delve deep into difficult and often shunned subject matter. The sadness reigns on the ballad “Alicia Ross”, a song that tells the story of an actual murder case in Toronto in 2005, in which a young girl was murdered by a neighbor. The story is told from the victim’s point of view, and is a wrenching account of a young girl’s thoughts, fears, and realizations in the moments leading up to her death (“was your darkest day as dark as this one?” and “he laid me in his garden, over the years I’ve watched him tend, and then he took me mama, so I can never tell you about it”), brilliantly juxtaposed in a melodic sweetness unbefitting the tale. “Scared at Night” tells of a daughter and her dying father (“maybe sometimes we gotta trust ourselves, that when you die, you go someplace else” and “in the dark, picture me in your mind, and I’ll lay with you, you don’t have to be scared at night”).
Edwards’ vocals are the means of making these songs about the darker side of life believable. Life is rife with uncertainty, and most times, so is Edwards’ voice. The phrasing of the chorus within a song is often different with each repetition. The intonation is sometimes awkward and hesitant, like someone searching for the right thing to say. And the pitch is inconsistent, sometimes cracked, but always replete with honesty and sincerity.
Edwards consistently draws unfair comparisons to Lucinda Williams, which are misleading and unfortunate. Edwards has a unique style all her own, and to blindly label her music, as one reviewer put it, “the best album Lucinda Williams never wrote,” is irresponsible at best. If this was a debut album, perhaps a broad generalization would apply, but after 2 albums like Failer and Back to Me, she’s earned her own description.
Asking for Flowers is a heartfelt and superbly crafted collection worthy of attentive listening and appreciation.
5 Beans (out of 5).
Visit Edwards’ MySpace page to stream songs from the new record.