Asking for Flowers
John Metzger's #4 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2008, Volume 15, #4
Written by John Metzger
Wed April 9, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Kathleen Edwards has never been known to pull her punches. On her debut Failer as well as its uneven follow-up Back to Me, she not only stated quite bluntly whatever happened to be on her mind, but she also surrounded her words with music that was just as aggressively forthright. Still, there was a sense that Edwards hadn’t yet found her stride or her voice. It was as if she didn’t feel comfortable just being herself. On her latest effort Asking for Flowers, she continues to sound like a cross between Lucinda Williams, Neil Young, and Tom Petty, but this time, there’s nothing tentative or uncertain about her approach, which makes all the difference in the world. Her lyrical portraits have matured considerably, too, and the unwavering confidence of her delivery dutifully brings them to life.
Like its predecessors, Asking for Flowers isn’t to be taken lightly, and the way in which its songs flow together sufficiently enhances the somberness of the album’s mood. Its packaging is adorned with an array of botanical photographs that depict blossoms that are in various stages of decay. Spent and fading, they stand as metaphors for the sense of loss that permeates the endeavor. On the angst-filled and angry diatribe The Cheapest Key as well as on the bitterly resigned title track, love has gone astray. Elsewhere, innocence is jettisoned as a young couple heads north to dodge the draft (Oil Man’s War), and death hovers over the chillingly mournful trilogy of Alicia Ross, Scared at Night, and Run.
Sometimes, Edwards’ narratives are vague; other moments are more direct. Although it’s hard to tell, for example, precisely what has happened in the true-life tale told in Alicia Ross, there is no mistaking the ominous tone that hangs in the air. With Oh Canada, Edwards follows a different tack by ripping the blinders from the eyes of the sheltered, white suburbanites who refuse to see the problems plaguing her homeland as well as the world. Through it all, the darkness that she conjures is disquieting, yet there also is something strikingly beautiful and universally compelling about her expressions of pain and anguish.
Working once again with producer Jim Scott, Edwards succeeded in regaining some of the punch that was missing from Back to Me. At the same time, though, she also managed to refine the subtler touches that she was attempting to graft onto her work. Aided by a supporting cast that includes Heartbreaker Benmont Tench as well as guitarists Colin Cripps and Greg Leisz, Edwards gives Oh Canada the snarling, biting grittiness it needs, while Paul Reddick’s harmonica accompaniment augments the troubled moodiness of Alicia Ross. When Edwards pulls back the reigns to deliver Sure as Shit, on which she is accompanied only by her own acoustic guitar, she reveals the fragile vulnerability that previously had been masked by her tough exterior.
In crafting Asking for Flowers, it seems as if Edwards finally has found her balance. Her songs are shaped as much by the music as they are by her words. Once its verses drift away, Goodnight, California is left to ride pensively upon the crests of sound that carefully are sculpted by Edwards’ backing band, and her vocals become nothing more than ghostly howls that escape into the black of night. They could be cries of mourning, they could be wails of loneliness, or they could be something in between. All of these perspectives would suit the tenor of the affair. The most important thing to remember, though, is that while Edwards’ first two outings showed a lot of potential and promise, Asking for Flowers is the work of an artist who is fully formed.
Of Further Interest...
Asking for Flowers is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box