Let the record show that Kathleen Edwards is not an asshole.
That's how she inaccurately described herself while profusely apologizing for missing an appointment for a telephone interview. It turns out that the Canadian alt-country singer's e-mail was down, so she initially didn't get word from her management that an interview had been scheduled.
Edwards--whose voicemail message identifies her as Katie--is so sharp-witted and charming that she earns a lot of slack. Over the course of her three studio albums, the 29-year-old singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, originally from Ottawa, has become adept at evoking melancholy, love, heartache, beauty, compassion and righteous rocking in a seemingly effortless fashion, although she probably exercises great care when crafting her songs.
Touring to promote her latest release, the sublime Asking for Flowers, Edwards and her band will perform at Club Congress on Tuesday, May 13. The concert is co-sponsored by community radio station KXCI FM 91.3 (and in the spirit of full disclosure, I am a former member of that station's board of directors).
A self-confessed serious fan of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, Edwards conjures in her music the twangy garage-rock epics of Neil Young and the heart-rending human vignettes of Lucinda Williams. She has in the past gone on record as being equally inspired by her early infatuations with the music of Whiskeytown and Ani DiFranco. Maybe it makes sense, then, that the resulting music might remind listeners of that of Gillian Welch.
After the 2003 release of Edwards' debut album, the warmly received Failer, she followed with Back to Me in 2005. It has been three years since then, and Edwards isn't ashamed of having taken her time with Asking for Flowers. The result is a killer album and a giant leap beyond the first two.
"I guess I didn't set out to make a record that was a big leap, but everybody could say that they set out to do something better and more challenging than their previous work. My intention was to take time and make a record that was full of great songs. As long as that was going to take was as long as I needed to make that record," Edwards said.
She added that she doesn't really think about an audience when writing.
"When I am writing songs, I'm not writing with other people in mind. I'm worried mostly about investing myself in these songs. It's kind of easy just to put yourself out there, but you kind of want to do it with integrity and maintain a level of accountability to the material.
"How people are receiving this stuff, how people take it after it is finished, is really outside of my power. I can't ever know actually how they are going to receive it."
Now she knows, as Asking for Flowers is gathering almost universal acclaim.
From the feisty "The Cheapest Key" and "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory" to the haunting "Run," the devastating rocker "Oh, Canada" and the atmospheric closer "Goodnight, California," Edwards' trademark moodiness is fully in evidence. As much as she sometimes writes from an autobiographical point of view, Edwards also tries to create narratives about the lives of others.
"I think, on this record more than ever, I've been trying to tell other people's stories. In doing that, there's always going to be some personal influences on other people's stories or personal stories that are going to sound more universal. It's like personal songs become other peoples' stories just by telling them."
Whether autobiographical or not, Edwards communicates some lovely romantic sentiments. It's not very often these days that a musical artist warrants verbatim quotations from her songs, but Edwards earns this quote from "Sure as Shit":
Choosing my words carefully
has never been my strength
I've been known to be vague
and often pointless
But you sure as shit know me
better than anybody else
And for that in my heart I am hopeful.
Edwards said she didn't expect that song would end up on the album. "I didn't even think I was going to release that song. But it felt good to have a happy love song on the record."
Speaking of love, Edwards has been married to guitarist-producer Colin Cripps, who plays in her band, since 2004. Balancing professional and personal relationships can be tricky but rewarding, she said, and their partnership has evolved.
"When I first met Colin, I was the new kid on the block, and he'd been around it a couple of times. I'd learned a lot from him. He's taught me a lot about taking ownership for your ambition and musical talent, and turning it into something better. When you have such a great guitar player around, there's no denying that he's inspirational."
When it came time to make Asking for Flowers, Edwards chose to co-produce it with Jim Scott and use a lineup of ace studio musicians, including such industry veterans as keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Bob Glaub, drummer Don Heffington and pedal steel player Greg Liesz.
"I made this record a little more with my own judgment," Edwards said. "I felt like I am starting to sort of have enough experience under my belt to make some of the decisions."