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Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards is now three albums into her career, and reviewers are finally getting around to comparing her to Neil Young. This is after tossing her in the alternative country pen and saying that she was Ottawa's version of Lucinda Williams. Whatever country strains surfaced in her 2003 debut, Failer, are gone in Asking for Flowers, a straightforward rock album that is more Young and Bruce Springsteen than Merle Haggard.

The signature songs on Edwards' last album, Back to Me ("Old Time Sake" and "Summerlong" ) were two huge ballads that stretched out to forever and summoned up acres of ache. On Asking for Flowers, Edwards is both angrier and funnier than she's demonstrated before. She relaxes too much toward the end, but she gets off several memorable shots before then.

The best is "The Cheapest Key," a song with energy and sass to spare, not to mention a memorable harmonica run. On the marvelously constructed title track, Edwards' penchant for blunt lyrics is used to great effect: "Asking for flowers/Is like asking you to be nice/Tell me you're too tired/Ten years I've been working nights." "Buffalo," which floats on a bed of understated strings, is another wintry ballad that sneaks up on you after a number of plays.

Edwards directs her ire at the U.S. on "Oil Man's War" and laments a murder in her native land in the Neil Young-like "O Canada." Her "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory" is a rare novelty number, and you know it is because she mentions hockey stars in it. The arresting acoustic "Sure as S**t" is the quietest number on the record and shows off Edwards' vulnerable side.

What keeps you listening even during slow patches like the last track, "Goodnight, California," which stretches out past the six-minute mark, is Edwards' voice. Nobody would mistake her for a conventionally pretty vocalist, but she has rock-and-roll pipes — she cuts through the noise and grabs your attention. On Asking for Flowers, more often than not, she makes it a worthwhile exercise.

Werner Trieschmann

Grade: B+

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