ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Kathleen Edwards is a 29-year-old singer/songwriter with a taste for rock 'n roll, folk and especially country music. Being based in Toronto, she finds metaphors not in red dirt farms or the Blue Ridge Mountains, but hockey skates and border crossings. She's released her third CD. It's called "Asking for Flowers," and critic Will Hermes says he has been playing it obsessively.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. KATHLEEN EDWARDS (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) ...ticking clock every time that you fall.
WILL HERMES: Kathleen Edwards grew up as the daughter of a Canadian diplomat, spending time in Korea, in Switzerland and studying classical violin with a Hungarian instructor - all of which goes to show that cow pie-kicking country rock musicians can really come from anywhere.
(Soundbite of song, "Cheapest Key")
Ms. EDWARDS: (Singing) They say the start's always the hardest part. But like you know, baby, I'm all warmed up. Sometimes I want to shout your name out loud and let them in on what you're all about. You always write it in the cheapest key. You always blame it on the cheapest key. You always play me in the cheapest key.
HERMES: Edwards has made two very good records, but on "Asking for Flowers," she steps up her game even further. Every song seems finely honed - her vocal phrasing, her harmony, her arrangements, and especially her lyrics, which suggest stories much bigger than can be contained in a three or four-minute song, and which often resonate long after the song is done. Take, for instance, the story sketched in "Oil Man's War," about two young people breaking North to escape both their families and an unspecified military call out, with verses that seem to conflate Vietnam in the '60s and Iraq today.
(Soundbite of song, "Oil Man's War")
Ms. EDWARDS: (Singing) And I'm not going to die for keeping ahead of a dotted line. 'Cause when we get up North, we'll buy us a store. I won't fight in an oil man's war. I won't fight in an oil man's war.
HERMES: But for me, the highlight of the record is "Scared at Night," a modest little song that, in three verses, depicts three generations: the singer as a child, her father as a young man, and her grandmother on her deathbed. Edwards says she cried and cried when she wrote it, and I believe her.
(Soundbite of song, "Scared at Night")
Ms. EDWARDS: As a child, I would wake at night. I was scared, but I kept real quiet. Shadows on the walls moving in on me, and underneath my sheets I could barely breathe. And your room was only just across the hall. All it would have taken was a single call. Maybe sometimes you've got to trust ourselves not to scream out loud and run like hell. Believe me, all the days you're unsure. Believe in me, I don't want to anymore. And in the dark, picture me in your mind, and I'll lay with you. You don't have to be scared at night.
HERMES: Edwards is at her best when she zeros in on an emotional knot and works it like a masseuse, trying to get beyond the initial pain to find some kind of relief. And she does that again and again on her new collection. It's a set of songs I can't get out of my head or my CD player.
(Soundbite of music)
SIEGEL: Kathleen Edwards's latest album is called "Asking for Flowers." Our reviewer is Will Hermes. To hear a full concert by Kathleen Edwards, you can visit the music section of our Web site: npr.org.