Kathleen Edwards avoids politics on-stage, but not on record

When the Straight called Ottawa native Kathleen Edwards on her cellphone last week, she had just pulled in to Tucson, Arizona, for a gig at the historic Hotel Congress. The venue’s name—and the fact that she had landed smack-dab in the middle of John McCain territory—made the topic of American politics seem like a suitable starting point for our chat. But the liberal-minded roots-rocker made it clear that Republican-bashing isn’t part of her touring agenda.

“I don’t really feel like it’s my place,” Edwards said. “I was touring in the [American] South in 2003, the year that the Iraq war started, and I could tell you that the biggest no-no in show business is to talk politics on-stage. Just the other night we were in Indianapolis and someone said, ”˜Barack Obama’s speaking at the next town over, but we came to see you!’ There were some cheers, and some hisses, but it’s like, ”˜You know what, man? No politics. We’re not talkin’ about it.’ ”

Edwards’s third and latest CD, Asking for Flowers, includes the song “Oil Man’s War”, which she claimed is not an indictment of George W. Bush’s disastrous foreign policy. It was inspired by the “horseshit” the Dixie Chicks went through after their famous on-stage slagging of Dubya, but it’s really just about people’s right to choose what side they want to be on.

“Oh Canada” is another issue-oriented track, in which Edwards confronts the media’s ambivalence toward gun violence as it affects minorities and the poor. The song asserts that it took the death of a white, middle-class girl in downtown Toronto for the topic of gun deaths to become front-page news nationally. After taking a detour into the perils of global warming, “Oh Canada” ends with a verse that sees Edwards directing her outrage—this time at society’s disregard for its downtrodden—westward: “Up on the hill is the best real estate, just to get in you have to sell off your faith/’Cause in the valley below there is crack and young girls, but you don’t have to believe what stays out of your world.”

“That last verse gets misinterpreted ’cause I’m from Ottawa, and they think it’s all about Parliament Hill,” Edwards explained. “But ”˜up on the hill’ is actually West Van. I would find it hard to live my life in Vancouver knowing that there is a community of people, the [Downtown] Eastside, that’s just suffering a lot.”

Asking for Flowers isn’t all doom and gloom, though; lighthearted ditties such as “The Cheapest Key” and “I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory” offer respite from Edwards’s more serious concerns. In a throwback to her 2002 hit “Hockey Skates”, “I Make the Dough” uses hockey references (“You’re the Great One, I’m Marty McSorley”) as metaphors for relationships. Edwards recently shot a video for the song in which she and her bandmates hit the ice with the likes of ex–NHLers McSorley, Paul Coffey, and Brad Dalgarno.

Edwards was scheduled to perform “I Make the Dough” on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno three days after her concert in Tucson. “I’m thinking about wearing the little hockey outfit I wore on the video,” she informed the Straight, “just to be an idiot. And I’m actually gonna see if Marty McSorley would come and play tambourine.”

And sure enough, the hard-core Senators fan closed the show in a cute green jersey, sassily rocking out while guitarist-hubby Colin Cripps deftly unwound the tune’s rootsy boogie licks. Sadly, Wayne Gretzky’s ex-protector was nowhere to be seen. At the very least, that warrants a penalty to number 33: five minutes for jamming out.

Kathleen Edwards plays Richard’s on Richards on Monday (May 26).