Fans of Kathleen Edwards might have been surprised to see the Ottawa-bred singer-songwriter at this year’s Juno Awards all glammed up in a form-fitting gown and playing violin alongside veteran rockstar Bryan Adams. She seemed miles away from the jeans-sporting, acoustic-guitar-slinging roots-rocker who isn’t afraid to drop F-bombs in her lyrics. But there she was, grinning from ear to ear, horsing around on stage with Adams like they were old pals.
Turns out she was just letting off a little steam after touring her most recent album, the critically acclaimed Asking For Flowers. “The Junos was kind of the weekend that I needed,” Edwards recalls. “I’d basically come from a full seven weeks of touring, and when you’re working that long without being home for even a couple of nights, you can start to lose your mind. Touring is pretty isolating, mostly because you’re not around anyone that you’re close to, so coming out to Vancouver and seeing so many people I really respect and admire, it really felt like I was part of the Canadian music community.”
Edwards has been a vital part of this country’s music scene since introducing audiences to her brand of keenly observed storytelling with her debut album, Failer, in 2003. Since then, she’s worked on honing her sound, a winning blend of folk-rock tinged with country and pop, which showcases her striking vocals and plain-spoken yet poetic lyrics.
Asking For Flowers was a bit of a departure for Edwards. “Frankly, people are sick of hearing the same ‘boy-meets-girl, girl-gets-pissed-off’ routine that I definitely covered in my last couple albums,” she laughs. “I kind of wanted to try writing different kinds of songs.” So, for the first time, Edwards turned her gaze outwards, penning songs such as “Alicia Ross”, about a young woman murdered in Ontario; “Oh Canada”, which confronts racism; and the sparse, haunting, destined-to-be-a-classic “Sure as Shit”.
Edwards was in good hands. She recorded Asking For Flowers in California with veteran producer Jim Scott (who’s worked with Tom Petty and Whiskeytown) and was backed by members of Petty’s Heartbreakers themselves. It was a bit of a dream come true for Edwards, who listened to Petty’s Wildflowers album obsessively as a guitar-strumming teen. “If I had known that 15 years later I would be having access to some of the same guys playing on my own record, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she says. She even recorded a cover of Petty’s “Face in the Crowd” on the B-side of her 2005 single “Back To Me”. “I feel like I’ve been very lucky and very charmed, and I’ve never taken it for granted,” she says.
Lately, her downtime at the Hamilton, Ontario, home she shares with her guitarist husband, Colin Cripps, has been cut short by recent trips to Europe, where she’s working on a collaboration that resulted from her big Junos moment. “Because of the response that Bryan and I got, with people saying, ‘You guys should do something together,’ we’re actually starting to make a record,” she says. “So instead of starting on new material for my own album, I’m actually starting a project with him. Sometimes these crazy opportunities reveal themselves, and you just have to seize them.” All these departures add up to Kathleen Edwards’ arrival.
Photo: Victor Travers.