Sometimes an artist you’ve categorized and filed away surprises you. So it is with Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards. Her 2003 debut Failer introduced her as a total kick in the pants — an Americana-tinged female singer who combined disarming vulnerability with raspy, almost confrontational bluntness.

The follow-up, Back to Me, sounded less varied and more effortful, and I more or less wrote her off.

kathleed edwards: asking for flowersThree years have passed since then, and this month, out of nowhere, comes Asking for Flowers, an astonishing leap forward. I haven’t been this in love with an album in a long while — I go to bed humming it and wake up wanting hear it. Everything has gone to the next level: Her voice is richer and more expressive. The songwriting is more varied, more empathetic, more catchy, more honest.

The first few times I heard it I thought, “this is reminiscent of Whiskeytown” — for my money the best Americana band in the last decade — and sure enough, it was produced by Jim Scott, who produced that band’s seminal album Strangers Almanac (which by the way was just released as a special edition double disc).

I agonized about which song to pick. There are at least four or five that count as classics-to-be. But “Asking for Flowers,” while not as flashy as some of the others, is the heart of the album. The tone — plaintive, resigned, exhausted — is so perfectly and authentically captured. About a minute and half in, there’s a line: “But all that’s left of me now / is this cigarette burning bright.” It’s so tender, I swear to God it has brought tears to my eyes a few times. I have to drink a canned beer just to regain my manhood.

Enjoy, and go see her if she plays near you.

Bonus pictures!

Here I am with Edwards at the 2003 Sasquatch music festival in Washington:

Me and Kathleen

Apparently, while I’ve been getting fatter and uglier she’s been getting healthier and prettier — here she is this year:

Kathleen Edwards
(photo: Kathleen Edwards’ blog)

Finally, here’s a little eight minute documentary: