O, Canada!

By MIKAEL WOOD  |  February 19, 2008

Unlike 1997’s Drag or 2000’s Invincible Summer (her most recent collection of original material), Watershed boasts no unifying theme or concept, and that frees up lang to dabble in whatever floats her idiosyncratic boat. Opener “I Dream of Spring” layers twangy dobro and creamy pedal steel over a shuffling drum-machine beat; “Close Your Eyes” has pensive piano plinks and a dark string chart reminiscent of recent Joni Mitchell; “Sunday” rides a muted bossa nova groove that perfectly suits lang’s hankering for a “Sunday afternoon naked in your room.”

Despite the various stylistic allowances, everything on Watershed hangs together thanks to lang’s meticulously calibrated singing, which is like an extrovert’s version of Margo Timmins’s inward murmur. (lang has always claimed another extroverted Canadian as an inspiration, Anne Murray.) Suffice to say she’s one of the few vocalists I can think of capable of making a come-on out of these words that roll out of her mouth in “Coming Home”: “I’m happily indifferent to the ones who have consistently been wrong/And all that once confined us like minutiae at its finest now is gone.”

Ottawa-born Kathleen Edwards is more a member of Adams’s school than lang’s — at least insofar as Adams is a member of the Lucinda Williams and Tom Petty school. At 29, Edwards is just a kid compared with lang and the Junkies, and she wants to make records that reflect that — records that capture what’s fresh and spontaneous about picking up a guitar and bashing out a song rather than what’s hard and complicated about studio work. To help accomplish this on Asking for Flowers (Zoë/Rounder), her third CD, she hired producer Jim Scott, whom she says she’s wanted to work with since discovering that Scott helmed Strangers Almanac by Adams’s old band Whiskeytown.

The result isn’t profound, as plain-talking song titles like “Sure As Shit” and “I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory” suggest. (“Choosing my words carefully has never been my strength,” Edwards admits in the former — “I’ve been known to be vague and often pointless.”) But with its catchy melodies, appealingly casual-sounding arrangements, and Edwards’s wide-open vocals, Asking for Flowers exudes an off-the-cuff charm that’s almost impossible to fake. The next time you’re programming a roadhouse jukebox — one not on a heroin nod — you could do a lot worse than giving it pride of place.

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