Flowers for Kathleen Edwards

Pub date May 14, 2008
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Being of so-called American Indian and African descent, I have never believed in borders. These imperial lines have only wreaked havoc and sealed our fate. Still, I’m always amused by just how much Canadian roots rockers seem to out amber-wave many Americana acts in the Lower 48. From the Band’s part-Mohawk Robbie Robertson penning classic anthems about Southern history ("The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down"), to Neil Young’s prurient praise-songs, to my much-removed kinswoman "Pocahontas" and beyond, there’s an outsider quality shared with my outlaw peoples, a sense of being on the margins that triggers keen lyrical and sonic focus. Add to this lineage Young’s aspiring heiress, Kathleen Edwards: on tracks such as the barroom gothic "Goodnight, California," she certainly makes that skill plain.

Edwards has bubbled under since her 2003 debut Failer (Socan/Factor), widely celebrated by music cognoscenti with reliable ears. But her world-weary folkie moves reminded me of Lucinda Williams and other sepia-tone, anachronist comers of the period. With Asking for Flowers (Zoe/Rounder), her finest album to date, she has finally distinguished herself from much of alt-country’s fringe-fetish ghetto . A cinematic sweep and fine Los Angeles sessioneering frame its road songs ("Buffalo") and polemical tales from the heartland ("Oil Man’s War"). "O Canada" revisits themes of drugs and mayhem from Tonight’s the Night (Reprise, 1975), by Young and his famed, unvarnished backing band Crazy Horse. I reckon we’ll be dancing round the ole maple this spring, crowing "B is for bullshit" from Edwards’ "The Cheapest Key" as it abounds on the ever more absurd campaign trail. Other Edwards lyrics should be reserved for rocker girlfriends and women saddled with tired-ass boyfriends. "I’ve been on the road too long to sympathize / With what you think you’re owed."

Nowhere is Edwards’ inherited Great North gift of odd insight more evident than on the disc’s best song: "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory." One could almost see Ellen Burstyn’s Alice singing, "You’re cool and cred like Fogerty, I’m Elvis Presley in the ’70s" to Kris Kristofferson in some meta-American vérité — that is, if much current US indie cinema wasn’t vastly inferior to films like Sarah Polley’s Oscar-nominated Away from Her (2006). Just as Polley kicked creative ass and Feist has been anointed the "New Joni" by worshipful black Atlantic male musicians, Edwards looks poised to be this year’s sweetheart of the rodeo — although nowhere nearer to Music Row than before. Happy trails, gal.


With the Last Town Chorus

Tues/20, 8 p.m., $18


628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1422