What distinguishes Kathleen Edwards from so many of the other female singer-songwriters on the roots-rock scene is her willingness to write lines of biting, vicious wit that transform otherwise straightforward narratives into stories with a bit more meat. It’s a talent that gives her work a unique, engaging voice in an increasingly tired genre, and Edwards’s pen is at its sharpest on her third album, Asking for Flowers. That definitely works to the record’s advantage, as Edwards and co-producer Jim Scott keep the production in familiar Neil Young territory; the strength of the songwriting saves the project from becoming monotonous. Edwards often reserves her showiest one-liners for her recent or soon-to-be exes (on the beautiful title track, she notes, “Asking for flowers/Is like asking you to be nice/Don’t tell me you’re too tired/Ten years I’ve been working nights”), but there’s a good deal of self-deprecation here as well. On the standout “I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory,” she snarls, “You’re cool and cred like Fogerty/I’m Elvis Presley in the ‘70s,” while she laments her own vocabulary on “Sure as Shit” by remarking that she’s “been known to be vague and often pointless.” And with two politically inspired numbers, the timely Vietnam draft-dodger tale of “Oil Man’s War” and the fiery diatribe “Oh, Canada,” it’s clear that no one is exempt from Edwards’s pointed observations. The album’s best songs, though, are a pair of melancholy, gothic stories (“Alicia Ross,” inspired by the murder of a teenage girl, and “Scared at Night,” which gives the grim details of a shooting accident) that showcase Edwards’s restraint. On her previous albums, her wordplay was something of a crutch that supported some weaker songs. That Edwards has written a collection that includes both great individual lines and some spectacular songs makes Asking for Flowers by far her most accomplished work.
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