When Kathleen Edwards released her ﬁrst CD Failer in 2003, her quavering, countriﬁed Canadian, love-child-of-Lucinda-and-Neil sound created a rabid band of new fans. Then came 2005’s Back to Me, which kept the ﬁre burning, staying lyrically close to Failer’s personal, relationship-focused angst. This month Edwards, 29, releases her third album, Asking for Flowers, which covers new artistic and sonic terrain and elevates Edwards into the ranks of many of her roots-rock role models.
A diplomat’s daughter, Edwards
landed in Korea at 13. The experience informed the Ottawa-born songwriter’s ﬁrst two albums with loneliness, introspection and an inchoate longing for the vast swath of the Canadian prairie. The haunted, poetic storytelling in those works tells the tale of a lonely, misﬁt girl who retreats into herself—and who hears a brooding roots-rock echo.
“I felt very alone and within myself,” Edwards says, “and I also got to see so much—cultures, lifestyles. I got to connect with a lot of older people who taught me a lot. I actually don’t think I dated anyone my age. Seoul, Korea, at 13 is hard on a Canadian girl, because at that age your small life revolves around you and your friends. Instead I was thrust into an Asian culture where I was very unhappy. I just wanted to be back in Canada, in my comfortable, safe environment. Instead I spent those years alone and experiencing things, writing poetry and looking inward.”
Edwards’ new album features a signiﬁcant lyrical growth-spurt and a little less navel-gazing, with songs that touch on the topical without compromising her storytelling strengths. The title cut paints a devastating picture of mental illness’ impact. “‘Asking for Flowers’—yes, that one broke ground for me,” Edwards says. “I feel very moved singing it, really telling a true, honest, unromantic version of what mental illness and emotional devastation feels like. I wanted to write a song that could have been about your grandmother losing your grandfather.”
Other new standout songs include “Oil Man’s War,” an aΩecting, Springsteen-esque tale about a young couple determined not to knuckle under; and “Run,” a downbeat alt.country anthem that summarizes the album when Edwards sings, “the smell of the world came into my lungs.”
With this accomplished new song-cycle, Edwards knows she has ventured into uncharted territory—she is admittedly scared, a growing artist riding the edge. “I had to step back and ﬁgure out whose stories I was going to tell—it’s hard to ﬁgure out life stories about people when you’re living in a tour bus. You know, after a while everything gets reduced to bodily functions [she laughs] … you kinda take 10 steps back intellectually on the road in a tour bus.”
The commercial consideration—is there a single among these gem-like stories?—is a painful question. “I’m trying to be honest with myself about content, without being too precious about it. After this, I have no idea if I’m ever going to be able to put another record out. What’s scary about your third album is you realize you now have ﬁnancial obligations to your band and your record company. I was given a lot of creative leeway with Asking for Flowers, and that’s frightening, too. I invested more in this record than I did in the ﬁrst one.
“All you can do is be the artist you are. I feel like a child most of the time,” Edwards says, her voice thick with feeling. “Like I’m the youngest person in the room, emotionally and spiritually. I’m still really grasping at straws—I don’t have any idea who I’m supposed to be.” Asking for Flowers goes a long way toward answering that question.